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Governor's 'War on Agriculture'
will hurt central Illinois    
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A guest column by Sen. Larry Bomke, 50th District

[APRIL 7, 2004]  Illinois' agriculture community faces continued harm caused by Gov. Rod Blagojevich's anti-agriculture administration. Gov. Blagojevich is waging a war on agriculture and it has got to stop. Last year he took forever naming an agriculture director; then he raided ag funds to balance the budget. This year he is cutting programs, floating fee increases and possibly capping horse-racing subsidies.

The governor is raiding a number of funds -- including agriculture funds -- to fill the budget gap and pay for his excessive spending. This year, he has floated fees on ag inputs such as feed, seed and weed killer to help generate revenue for another year of excessive spending. At the same time he has eliminated funding for the Illinois Council for Food and Agriculture Research and has floated the idea of capping or restructuring subsidies to the horse-racing industry.

Our local communities have already been hit hard by last year's tax and fees increases -- more than 300 fees that affect consumers throughout Illinois. This year the governor is looking to agriculture to pay for his excessive spending. Placing this great a burden on agriculture will negatively affect our rural communities, our farms and our agriculture-based industries. The stability of our local economies is at stake. That is why we need to put an end to the governor's tactics.

The governor has four specific hits on agriculture that trouble me and my Senate Republican colleagues.

First is the repeal of the state's "feed and seed" sales tax exemption for farmers with a gross income of more than $1 million. The Illinois Farm Bureau estimates increased costs for corn and soybean farmers of about $7.63 per acre for corn and $4.59 for soybeans. Increased fee costs will mean livestock producers will pay more per animal. The costs for hog producers will be as much as $3.30 more per pig; for cow-calf operators, $2.74 more per head; and for dairy operators, $91 more per head. All told, this tax increase will generate only $27 million for the state. A better option would be to eliminate the proposed $26 million taxpayer-funded book-a-month club.

Next, the governor proposes funding cuts in the Department of Agriculture by 10.7 percent and elimination of more than 100 jobs. The governor also raids several ag funds and transfers this money into other funds, including the General Revenue Fund, to pay the state's day-to-day operating costs.

Gov. Blagojevich also proposes eliminating funding for the Council on Food and Agriculture Research, which supports agricultural and food products research grants to the University of Illinois and other public universities as authorized by the Food and Agriculture Research Act. This program works on behalf of relevant and high-quality research and profitable, consumer-sensitive and environmentally sound products for food and agricultural systems in Illinois.

 

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Finally, he proposed capping or restructuring funding in the horse-racing industry, which provides more than 37,000 Illinois jobs and is responsible for more than $1.4 billion in economic activity statewide.

My Senate Republicans colleagues and I are calling upon the agriculture community to join us in fighting against these harmful steps by the Blagojevich administration. I urge those individuals and groups who depend on agriculture to sign petitions, pass resolutions and send a clear message to the governor and the Democratic majority that Illinois will not tolerate the "War on Agriculture."

Originally, the governor had also proposed gutting the Department on Agriculture by transferring important segments to the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency. After our initial grass-roots efforts, the governor rescinded those attempts and promised to the leave the department intact.

This is our first victory, but we need to keep pressure on the governor to rescind his other, more harmful attacks on Illinois agriculture. My Senate Republican colleagues and I are organizing a petition drive to show support for agriculture and opposition to the governor's harmful fees. In central Illinois, petitions are available through my office, Sen. Brady's office and Sen. Rutherford's office and through your local farm bureaus and agriculture organizations.

To sign a petition or get copies to circulate in your community, please contact us. Those interested can also sign up for e-mail updates on agriculture issues at www.senategop.state.il.us. We will keep you apprised of any developments in this area.

As always, if you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other issue, please feel free to contact me at (217) 782-0228, (217) 732-4433 or senator_bomke@yahoo.com.

[News release from Sen. Larry Bomke]

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