By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, September 2 Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillan (R) held a press conference in Montgomery to announce that cuts to the Agriculture Department budget would severely Impact Alabama’s $70+ billion farm, and agribusiness economy
Com. McMillan warned that Alabama’s economy will suffer and the state’s food safety will be jeopardized if the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries’ general fund appropriation is cut by $1.2 million or more.
Commissioner John McMillan said, “The Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries is a complex state agency, one that has responsibilities that touch the lives of every Alabamian. Cutting our General Fund appropriation will have devastating consequences on the essential services we provide farmers and agribusinesses that contribute more than $70 billion a year to our state’s economy.”
McMillan said, “Our scope of work is large and varied, from inspecting the small scales at the grocery store to regulating the pesticide companies that provide termite inspection and treatment. The department’s laboratories are among essential services that budget cuts would jeopardize. These include a broad array of vital services, from testing for pesticide residue to thousands of tests performed by the department’s diagnostic labs on Alabama poultry and livestock.”
Agriculture remains the largest industry in Alabama and we are nation’s second largest broiler (meat chicken) producing 21.5 million per week and employing some 86,000 workers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that the Alabama Ag Department labs test blood samples (including tests for Avian Influenza) taken from every flock produced in Alabama.
Commissioner McMillan said, “We have been asked by members of the Legislature to show how the department will be affected by a budget reduction as passed by the Alabama Senate in the first special session. That budget would reduce the department’s General Fund Appropriation from $9.6 million to $5.3 million, a reduction of nearly 50%. If that austere budget is passed the entire mission of the department will be in jeopardy.”
McMillan said that the department has been level funded since the 37% General Fund reduction four years ago.
McMillan said that, “Any further cuts will damage our ability to operate effectively, forcing the shutdown of as many as three diagnostic labs, along with the State Seed Lab, Agricultural Compliance Section, and meat inspection services. We live with austerity and practice it every day, but the deeper the cuts to our appropriation, the more we will be forced to curtail essential services.”
The Commissioner provided reporters with a list of impacts from the proposed General Fund budget cuts. They include: Closing of up to three of four poultry diagnostic laboratories (Hanceville, Boaz and Elba); Closure of the department’s meat inspection services which they say would likely result in closure or severe cutbacks in production of many meat processing plants that are required to have an inspection by the department or USDA in order to sell their products across state lines; closure of the Alabama State Seed Laboratory which analyzes for germination, purity and prohibited or restricted noxious weed seed, a regulatory action prescribed by Alabama law; and closing Agricultural Compliance, which has regulatory responsibility for the inspection of seed, feed, fertilizer and liming materials.
McMillan warned that the threat of avian influenza to the state’s multi-billion dollar chicken industry means that there is a need for more testing not less.
Not everyone is convinced that the general fund can’t absorb cuts.
State Senator Paul Bussman (R from Cullman) replied to the announcement on Facebook, “Wouldn’t be a new day without a new threat from the “Montgomery Kingdom”. Today it’s the AL Dept of Agriculture. IF YOU DON’T PAY MORE TAXES your food safety will be at risk. No inspections of livestock or lab testing of poultry, etc.”
According to information being reported by the ‘Yellowhammer News’ Alabama State government has grown 21% more than the rate of inflation since 1997.
This is Commissioner McMillan’s second term as state Ag Commissioner.
Governor Robert Bentley has proposed tax increases to level fund all State General Fund (SGF) agencies. That $302 million tax plan appears almost certain to be rejected by legislators, likely without a hearing. Some State Senators favor moving $240 million of use taxes from Education to the troubled SGF. Some of those Senators favor not replacing that revenue in the ETF. Others are reportedly going to propose transferring the use tax to the SGF; but then backfilling that with an education lottery which would have to be approved by voters in March. Other legislators want to just cut the SGF down to $1.62 billion and then go home and another faction in the GOP want to pass an SGF budget with some combination of tax increases and budget cuts.
The Second 2015 Special Session begins on Tuesday, September 8.