Frankly, there is very little debate on farm and food policy before the Kansas Legislature. The major farm organizations lobby on related issues such as the elimination of the estate tax in Kansas, softening state environmental regulations, limiting water restrictions for agriculture and protecting the special sales and property tax breaks that benefit the farming community. It will take an educational effort and proactive agenda to increase the production/consumption of local foods in Kansas, increase the role of the remaining 58 small meat processors to meet the consumer's increasing demand for local, natural meats, and promote conservation and environmental protection of our resources.
Last year, a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in both the Kansas House and Senate were able to pass an increase in the sales tax to hold off more draconian budget cuts. Kansas Governor-elect Sam Brownback will not accept any tax increase and there are only about 45 moderates left in the Kansas House. The Kansas Senate will play the key role in tempering this new political climate.
BUDGETARY CHALLENGES: The new Governor will have a difficult challenge to develop a budget for the 2012 Fiscal Year (FY) that begins July 1, 2011. Kansas has a state budget of $13 Billion. This budget is divided between the State General Fund (SGF) of $6 Billion - that is primarily funded by personal income and sales tax - and the remaining $7 Billion that is federal funds, highway funds, property taxes and dedicated fee funds. The Kansas Legislature primarily works on the SGF portion of this entire budget.
Over the last three years, over $1 Billion has been removed from the SGF. In the present FY 2011 State Budget that ends June 30, 2011, there are $490 million of 'final' federal stimulus funds of which $200 million has been used for public education. The Governor-elect has stated that the $200 million for public schools will not be replaced for 2012 so schools will have to cut expenses with less personnel and larger classes or increase local property taxes.
Beyond the reduction to public education, the promise is that budgets for 'core functions' can be held level to their present levels. The fiscal debate will be to define 'core functions' and what other state duties can be curtailed or eliminated.
GOVERNOR'S REORGANIZATION ORDER: Rumor has it that the new Governor will propose some extensive re-organizational changes to state government. The Governor has 30 days after inauguration to propose such an order. The Kansas House and Senate have 45 days to review this reorganization order. By a simple majority, either chamber can vote down this reorganization order but cannot amend it. This reorganization order can change existing statues and duties of departments in the executive branch. It is possible we will see certain environmental programs moved from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to the Kansas Department of Agriculture. The Kansas Health Policy Authority - that controls $2.5 Billion in medical programs - is presently not under direct control by the Governor and so that may be changed.
DEFINING SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE: Last year, the Kansas Grain and Feed Dealers proposed legislation to define 'sustainable agriculture' in state statue. In essence, they wanted to call all existing farming practices sustainable. I believe 7 other states have defined sustainable agriculture in law. The bill was introduced in the Kansas Senate Agriculture committee but the proponents changed their minds over calling for a hearing on the bill. This bill will have to be re-introduced to be considered.
FEDERAL FUNDING IMPACT: Congress was unable to pass a complete year budget for 2011. The federal budget Continuing Resolution passed in December expires March 4 so budgetary challenges for conservation, organics, value-added grants, beginning farmer programs, etc. will be formidable. The commodity groups will fight hard to protect their direct farm payments while many hunger advocates will fight to protect the expanded food stamp program so other farm programs will be under attack. Senator Pat Roberts will now be the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture committee while the new chair will be Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan who has a broader view of specialty crops and conservation programs. Reductions in direct support and federal research grants for Land Grant colleges will impact K-State Research & Extension.
CONSOLIDATION IN KANSAS AGRICULTURE: In 2007 Kansas had 65,531 farms with sales of $14.4 Billion. 3,268 of these farms accounted for 75% of total sales. Since 1978, the number of Kansas' dairies has declined from 5,691 to 776 in 2007 with 21 now accounting for 65% of milk sales. Kansas had 13,749 hog farms in 1978 while today Kansas has 1,542 with 219 accounting for 75% of pork sales. From 1995 to 2009, 85% of the $13.5 Billion in farm bill payments went to the top 20% of all Kansas' farmers. <http://farm.ewg.org/> View a state map of these large factory farms by county at www.foodandwaterwatch.org /click on food at the top of the website and click on factory farms.