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Doyle Calls New State Budget 'Agriculturally-Friendly'
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 07/02/2009

Governor Jim Doyle says the state budget bill he signed earlier this week helps preserve farmland, funds more inspectors for meat processing facilities, and will strengthen the dairy industry through new tax credits for cheese plants looking to expand. During a conference call with farm reporters on Wednesday, Doyle said the $62 billion spending package had to deal with some serious economic challenges, but noted lawmakers did a good job of 'protecting our basic priorities, such as agriculture.'

Doyle said he was especially pleased that the new budget included full funding for the Working Lands Initiative, which allocates $12 million for agricultural conservation easement grants.

"It's always a challenge to keep good farmland in production. That's why this program is so important," Doyle said. "If we're going to continue to be a thriving farm state, we're going to have to protect our agricultural land."

Specifically, the easements must be consistent with county farmland preservation plans. In addition, the Department of Agriculture will now have the authority to designate up to 15 Agricultural Enterprise Area pilots over the next two-and-half-years. The budget also replaces the current farmland preservation tax credit and farmland tax relief credits with a new per-acre farmland preservation tax credit. The new credit retains the farmland protection and soil and water goals of the current program, but simplifies the payment formula and better targets critical farmland.

The governor was also happy to announce that the DATCP will be able to hire four additional meat plant inspectors. Originally, he was planning to fund those new jobs though a proposed slaughter fee for each head for cattle, hogs and poultry that goes to market. But the idea was killed during the legislative process--which Doyle said he doesn't regret.

"I understand this proposal didn't sit well with a lot of people in the industry, and I can appreciate where they are coming from," he said when asked about his original intentions. "With that said, I'm glad the legislature was able to find a new way to come up with the funds. Wisconsin has some of the cleanest facilities in the country for processing food products and I want to make sure we keep it that way."

The budget also establishes two new income tax credits for the modernization of dairy manufacturing and meat processing facilities.

When asked about his stance on a Senate provision that would have re-written parts of the use-value assessment law, Doyle said he was glad the item was remove from the budget.

"I would hate to see what would happen if use value was threatened," Doyle said. "This was a last minute budget item that I didn't agree with and I was glad to see the conference committee eliminate it before it reached my desk."

Another controversial item removed in the budget would have required the state to issue a driver's card to illegal aliens. Doyle said it was appropriate that lawmakers didn't push that idea because driving privileges would be better-handled through federal legislation, such as an immigration reform policy.

And he said he wasn't disappointed to see the so-called oil franchise tax removed from the budget, either. But in the same breath he made it clear to reporters that he has a problem with major oil companies raking in record profits on the backs of a struggling economy.

"Back when I was attorney general and the gas price would go up substantially, we would investigate and try to find out why... and we could never find an answer," Doyle recalled. "I feel these corporations should somehow help pay for the roads and bridges that helped make their profits possible in the first place."

When asked about additional policies he would like to see drafted for agriculture in the future, Doyle said he hopes farmers will eventually play a bigger roll in the production of bioenergy.

"I think in the long run, not only food, but energy, will be among the main products of our state's farm industry," he said. "There's no reason why Wisconsin can't be a major player in our nation's efforts to reduce our demand on foreign oil and create alternative means of supplying our energy needs."

The group also asked Doyle if he's ready to announce his candidacy for a third term as governor. He declined to give any official answers, saying there's more important work to be done at the moment and that announcement will have to wait until next year at the earliest.

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