IFBF: 2009 state legislature addressed urgent environmental, infrastructure issues
Long-term picture uncertain
The 2009 legislative session produced solutions for some existing environmental and infrastructure needs but left many financial questions unanswered for 2010 and beyond according to the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
"Farm Bureau members were diligent in their discussions with state lawmakers," said IFBF President Craig Lang. "They expressed their desire for transportation, energy and environmental solutions that wouldn't compromise the economic future of the state. Thanks to their hard work, several laws were passed that will benefit all Iowans."
State lawmakers were able to balance the needs of the environment and farmers who work and live on the land by passing practical manure application restrictions and designating an additional $25 million in funding for soil conservation and water quality programs. Senate File 432 prohibits the application of manure on snow-covered ground from Dec. 21 to April 1. It also disallows the application of manure on frozen ground from Feb. 1 to April 1. Small livestock farms and dry manure are exempt from these prohibitions, and the law grants exceptions to farmers who are faced with unforeseen circumstances. The law preempts a more restrictive Environmental Protection Commission rule that would have had significant costs for family farmers, particularly smaller farms.
"The manure application restrictions passed by the legislature allow for a workable compromise between farmers and non-farming Iowans," said Lang. "The state legislature was correct to address this issue. It is important that our laws, environmental and otherwise, be created by our elected representatives, rather than appointed officials."
The legislature also allocated funding for immediate infrastructure support and flood disaster repair. Approximately $45 million was appropriated from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF) to be used by counties and cities for road projects. Iowa will also assign $394 million from the federal stimulus package to road and bridge projects.
"Farm Bureau members were pleased to see immediate funding for the roads and bridges that keep our state's economic engine running," said Lang. "However, they realize that a one-year infusion isn't going to repair and maintain our essential infrastructure. An increase in the state's fuel tax is the best way to fund our transportation needs now and in the future. We hope that Governor Culver and the state legislature will continue to consider that option."
Despite its successes, the 2009 legislative session did present concerns for Farm Bureau members. Record spending on the 2010 budget, school funding shortfalls amounting to $65 million combined in 2009 and 2010, and $765 million in bonding raised questions about the state's financial future. The potential budget shortfall for 2011 is approximately $890 million, and future state spending remains a big concern for Farm Bureau members, according to Farm Bureau Government Relations Director Don Petersen.
In addition to conservation and infrastructure funding, several other Farm Bureau priorities passed the legislature, including changes to wind tax credits and the grain indemnity fund. Senate File 456 increased the amount of megawatts eligible for a wind energy tax credit from 130 to 330 megawatts, which will encourage additional locally owned wind production. The cap on the Grain Indemnity Fund was increased from $6 million to $8 million, and the maximum payout for a loss incurred by a farmer is raised from $150,000 to $300,000.
"Farm Bureau members should be happy with the progress that was made on some key issues this legislative session and continue to work for long-term solutions that are fiscally responsible," said Lang.