$1.2 Billion Approved for Infrastructure Upgrades, Funding for Farmers Left Behind
The General Assembly and Gov. Rendell this week gave final approval to more than $1.2 billion in new funding for infrastructure improvements, including water and sewer system upgrades, but only managed to restore some of the cuts made to the Department of Agriculture and conservation district funding without adding anything to help farmers meet federal and state clean water mandates.
The more than 40 groups supporting the PA Fair Share for Clean Water Plan called for both funding wastewater infrastructure improvements and farmers meet nutrient and sediment reduction requirements and to allow for future growth.
Helping Sewer System Ratepayers
Funding for wastewater plant upgrades were included in Senate Bill 2 (Earll-R-Erie) that provides $850 million in funding for drinking water and wastewater plant improvements, flood protection projects and high hazard dam repair. Without adding new funding, the Rendell Administration amended the bill to include up to $35 million to repair state-owned dams.
Wastewater plant funding was also included in Senate Bill 1341 (Musto-D- Luzerne) that authorizes a $400 million bond issue referendum to fund drinking water and wastewater projects that is due to be on the ballot in November.
Wastewater plant upgrades to meet federal Clean Water Act nutrient reduction mandates in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed alone are estimated to be over $1 billion.
A list of wastewater plants in Pennsylvania that must meet new nutrient reduction requirements.
No Help for Family Farmers
While the General Assembly did restore some of many budget cuts proposed by Gov. Rendell in programs to help farmers design and install conservation practices in the Department of Agriculture and conservation district budgets, no additional funding was approved to help farmers install conservation practices to meet federal and state nutrient reduction mandates.
County conservation district funding remained at the 2006-07 level, representing a cut of $200,000 annually over the last two years. Districts provide the technical assistance farmers need to plan, design and install conservation practices.
Without increased funding, farmers will be unable to install the estimated $600 million worth of farm conservation practices the Department of Environmental Protection estimates are needed just to meet the nutrient reduction requirements in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed alone.
In addition, the Commonwealth will be unable to match the more than $440 million in new funding earmarked for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed states in the just passed federal Farm Bill.
Budget line items in the Department of Agriculture for the Nutrient Management Fund, agricultural research, the Penn State Extension Service were cut or stayed the same in spite of the new clean water mandates on farmers.
Just getting these conservation district and Department of Agriculture line items to where they are now in the final budget took extraordinary work and support from individual members of the General Assembly, especially given the way this year’s budget was negotiated.
The starting point for budget talks was the budget proposed by the Governor (and largely passed by the Senate) that made significant cuts in all line items. The Governor made matters more difficult by lowering those numbers even more with a 1.3 percent across-the-board line item budget cut.
That starting point forced legislators to “buy back” the line items they wanted from funds allocated to each Caucus or from cuts in other places.
So, just to get where these farm related numbers are now took thousands of phone calls, faxes and emails from members of the Fair Share Clean Water Plan Coalition’s grassroots.
Nutrient Credit Trading
In addition to funding, the Fair Share Plan called for the adoption of legislation to create a Nutrient Credit Trading Bank that would help make the current Nutrient Credit Trading Program run effectively.
The Senate intends to hold a hearing on Senate Bill 1493, introduced by Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland), which establishes the Nutrient Credit Bank Program, this summer.
Without funding to support farm conservation projects and a functioning Nutrient Credit Trading system,
In addition, because of the cap on nutrient discharges, the number of nutrient credits available to offset new growth will be significantly reduced without farm conservation projects generating those credits.
The budget again included a $75 million film development tax credit and $45 million to put laptops on the desks of high school seniors.
For more information, visit the PA Fair Share for Clean Water Plan website.
Sen. Armstrong (R-Lancaster), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, comments on necessity of state borrowing for infrastructure improvements.
NewsClips: Budget Passes; Education, Energy Get More
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