MAY 2007 -- The public hearings are over and all the reports have been submitted to the General Assembly. Now it is time for the legislators to vote on which bills will become law and which will not. The 3900 bills submitted by the individual legislators have been reduced to just under 500 that are ready for debate on the floor of the House and Senate. There will not be enough time to consider all the bills that are ready for debate, so many of them will fail for lack of action.
There are several bills in the General Assembly this year to support existing farmers, but Senate Bill 1061 is intended to help the next generation of farmers by providing increased state aid for the 20 regional agriculture education centers throughout the state. The towns that host agricultural education programs, commonly known as “vo-ag”, may charge the nearby towns that send their agricultural students to the host town a maximum of $6,009 per student each year to help cover the cost to the host town.
In addition, the State reimburses the host towns $789 per year for each student enrolled in agricultural education. Senate Bill 1061 would increase this funding to $2500 per student to help close the gap between what the host towns receive and what it costs them to educate the students from the nearby “sending” towns. The Grange has long supported both agriculture and education. Every year most Granges in Connecticut make donations to the FFA Foundation to help support the extra-curricular programs associated with agricultural education.
The Granges need to support Senate Bill 1061 to ensure the 3,000 students enrolled in agriculture education throughout Connecticut can continue to receive the quality education that will enable them to become the next generation of Connecticut farmers. The bill is currently before the General Assembly’s Appropriation Committee. Please contact your senators and representatives and urge their support for Senate Bill 1061. You do not need to write a long letter. A phone call or e-mail to their office will be very effective.
The budget will be a major issue this year. Governor Rell has proposed to increase the state income tax to 5.25% this year and to 5.50% in 2008. The income tax would continue as a flat rate tax as it is now, with the increases affecting everyone across the board. The Governor also proposes to eliminate the local property tax on automobiles, but not on other vehicles including private pickup trucks and trailers. In contrast, the General Assembly’s Finance Committee has proposed a graduated income tax where married couples with less than $20,000 income would pay 3% while at the other end of the scale couples with combined incomes totaling more than $250,000 would pay 6.95%.
The Finance Committee’s proposal would also increase the maximum credit for local taxes to $1,000, double the current limit of $500. Both the Governor’s proposal and the Finance Committee’s proposal would increase state aid to the towns to reduce increases in local property taxes, but in both cases the bottom line for homeowners would be about the same because they would have to pay more in state taxes to fund the increased aid to the municipalities. Although the Democrats have enough votes in both the Senate and the House to override any vetoes, Governor Rell has indicated she will veto the budget as proposed by the Finance Committee if it reaches her desk without some substantial changes.
At the Federal level, the 2007 Farm Bill is still being negotiated, with economic forces playing a major role. The use of corn to produce ethanol as an alternative to crude oil has increased the demand and therefore the price of corn. This is good news for the mid-west and great plains farmers who grow corn, but bad news for the northeastern dairy farmers who buy corn to feed their cattle. Like everything else that travels by truck or train, the increased costs of diesel fuel are passed on in higher shipping prices on the corn. Some Connecticut farmers are now paying double what they paid at this time last year for their corn. Representatives Joseph Courtney (2nd District) and Christopher Murphy (5th District) have recently formed a coalition with other representatives from the northeastern states to work for programs in the new Farm Bill that will favor northeastern farmers.