Sec. Polansky criticizes editorial
I'm very disappointed by last week's editorial (June 29) lambasting the Kansas Department of Agriculture for how we dealt with cuts to our budget. Not only was it inaccurate, it accused us of surreptitiously and arbitrarily discontinuing market reports despite their value to the livestock industry.
Like all state agencies, the Kansas Department of Agriculture has weathered--and continues to weather--cuts to its funding. The state general fund portion of our budget has been cut 15 percent since 2008. In addition to cuts, we have had to find ways to internally fund additional personnel-related expenses because the Legislature did not appropriate any money to cover them.
Since half of our budget comes from the state general fund, and 83 percent of our state general fund appropriation is used to pay salaries, it has been necessary to reduce our workforce. Between layoffs and attrition, our current vacancy rate is 21 percent.
During the 2009 legislation session, all state agencies were asked by the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit to provide a list of programs and functions in tiers, 80 percent of which were labeled "buy first," 10 percent "buy next," and 10 percent "don't buy now." The request was tied to a 10 percent budget reduction the Legislature was seeking to impose on all agencies. We complied with the request, but emphasized that we believed all functions and services were vital, including two livestock auction reporter positions covering auctions in Pratt and Salina that were on the list.
The livestock market reports weren't the only functions or services on the line. There were others of importance to other segments of the agriculture industry, but their representatives from the Kansas Co-Op Council and the Kansas Grain and Feed Association were able to convince lawmakers to support their continued funding.
Items remaining on the list were discussed and ultimately approved in a meeting of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on March 12, 2009.
Our department has had to make many difficult and painful decisions about how to deal with cuts to our funding. We expect to continue to be asked to make these difficult decisions until the national and state economies improve. And you're right that we do need to put our heads together to find solutions. Unfortunately, that can't be accomplished by pointing fingers and laying blame. Instead, when we are at the Statehouse fighting for every dollar of funding we receive, we need industry at our side fighting the fight with us. We can't expect to succeed without their support.
Finally, I'm disappointed that you chose to publish an editorial chastising us after we had explained that we were in the process of exploring alternatives to continue the Salina and Pratt livestock markets. We can't restore the $88,841 cut from the Kansas Agricultural Statistics budget that helped pay for these two reports, but we believe we have found a way for them to continue. While it was premature to share information about contract negotiations when we spoke with your reporter last week, we can now say that the Pratt and Salina livestock reporter contracts are being extended for another month. This will give us time to train a current Kansas Department of Agriculture employee to report on the Pratt market and for discussions to continue regarding alternate funding for the Salina report. Having a current employee cover the Pratt market report will require us to reduce to once a week a twice-weekly report on the hay market, but we consider that an equitable solution at this time.
--Adrian J. Polansky, Kansas Secretary of Agriculture