For the first time in 2014, the DE General Assembly convened in January. Later in the month the usual “State of the State” address was given by our Governor. I have to agree with State Minority Whip Rep. Deb Hudson (R). Why wasn’t our #1 industry mentioned? Take a listen below (it’s a 9 second clip).
Is there a state agricultural policy agenda for the upcoming year? As of today, Feb 18, there has been no Agricultural Committee meeting scheduled or held this year in either chamber. There are many agricultural related bills being held over from the last session including the “Right to Farm Bill” (HB 65) and at least 2 bills related to agricultural license plates and special tags. One of these, HB 122, did pass both Houses on Jan. 30, 2014. This bill would allow farmers who have a farm vehicle that is used within a 20 mile radius of their farm to register their vehicle with DMV. The “FV” tag would replace the white plastic “Farm Vehicle” tags. The FV tag fee is $10 which is comparable to what the “Farm Vehicle” tags sell for. A vehicle with an “FV” tag would be exempt from inspection.
I also have to admit, the “clean water initiative’s” our Governor mentioned several times in his address make me nervous. Details from DNREC haven’t been released yet. The Governor also released his budget proposal a few days later, in which he proposed a $8 million funding cut to the State’s Farmland Preservation program. The cut would leave $2 million for the fund.
In recent days, Rep. John Atkins, Chair of the House Agricultural Committee, proposed a toll for west Rt. 404 instead of the .10 gas tax, which the Governor proposed in his address. It was all over the media yesterday, including tv and radio (WBOC, WMDT, and 105.9). Our family farm businesses operate on Rt. 404, which include a retail produce stand, creamery, and daily farm operations. If this becomes seriously considered (it sounds like a just an idea at this point), let’s pray that our customers don’t bypass Rt. 404 to avoid the toll. Let’s also hope that the toll booth doesn’t go in directly across from one of our retail operations. I’d also like to hear what Rep. Dave Wilson, Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, or Sen. Gary Simpson have to say (Rt. 404 west is split by District 18 & 19), since this is their district! Sen. Pettyjohn released a YouTube video recently, centered on ag issues and not supporting the proposed gas tax hike or cut to farmland preservation dollars, but it offered no alternative options and it came out before Rep. Atkin’s toll proposal. See the You Tube mash-up below. The legislative session doesn’t reconvene until late March. More to come and hopefully an Ag Committee meeting date!?!?