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Budget fiasco hurts agriculture

By Staff | Nov 5, 2009

The disastrous mismanagement of Iowa’s state budget by Gov. Chet Culver and the Democrats who control both houses of the state Legislature will hit the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship especially hard.

Iowa faces a state budget crisis because revenues for 2010 apparently will be almost $415 million less than Culver and the Democrats in the Legislature said they expected when this year’s state budget was adopted. The news for 2011 is even worse – a $1 billion shortfall is now projected. Culver has instituted a 10 percent across-the-board spending cut for state agencies to address the budget crisis.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced last month that the 10 percent cut called for by the governor would bring his department’s total budget reduction from the beginning of Fiscal Year 2009 through Fiscal Year 2010 to 23 percent.

“The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has taken a significant reduction over the past year and another 10 percent cut in funding will have a dramatic effect on how we operate and the services we will be able to provide,” Northey said in a statement issued Oct. 8. “We will spend less money this fiscal year than was spent 16 years ago, all while state government has grown approximately 48 percent in the same period of time.”

According to Northey, the department now has the fewest employees it has had in more than two decades and a funding level for its programs that is about the same as it was 15 years ago.

Keeping the department Northey heads strong is a priority given the importance of agriculture to the Hawkeye State. The dire situation he faces in trying to keep its programs functioning underlines the irresponsibility of the governor’s handling of Iowa’s finances. Any serious observer of the national economy could have predicted that 2009 and 2010 would require an austere state budget. The governor should have recognized that reality and insisted that his party’s leaders in the Legislature conduct a careful evaluation of the relative importance of the long list of state expenditure requests. The failure to make hard decisions earlier this year has resulted in a crisis now that could have been avoided. Unfortunately, Iowa’s farmers and those agricultural industries that depend on Department of Agriculture programs will pay some of the price for the failure of the governor and his party to provide the needed leadership.

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