The agriculture industry needs to be an important part of the discussion as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the two houses of the state legislature work to hammer out a budget agreement over the next several days, according to Assemblywoman Addie Jenne, D-Theresa.
"There will be considerable discussion over the next couple of weeks about our state's economic developments efforts, and those discussions will have real-life impacts on areas of the state like the North Country, where our unemployment rates continue to be among the highest in the state," Jenne said in a news release. "The latest unemployment numbers showed unemployment rates for January of 7.7 percent for Jefferson County and 7.8 percent for St. Lawrence County. Those rates are unacceptable. A proper investment in ag funding can drive economic activity and lead to growing jobs in rural areas like the North Country.”
She is convinced major changes are necessary to the regional economic development council process that has governed the state's economic development effort in recent years.
"The regional council has clearly had its successes. We have benefitted from the councils bringing together players from different parts of regions like the North Country, broken down some of the parochialism that has harmed economic development efforts in the past and given our leaders an opportunity to focus on the assets and liabilities of the various regions of the state," she said. "Unemployment rates hovering around the 8 percent mark in the North Country - nearly double the national unemployment of 4.7 percent in February - show we have to make changes.”
Changes in climate are leading to monumental changes in agriculture in the United States, and she said the state needs to take proactive steps to grow agriculture-related jobs in the North Country and around the state, she said.
"There have been changes and improvements made to the economic development effort in recent years, but the agriculture industry - our farmers in particular - have been frozen out of that process," she said. "That needs to end now. We need to invest in agriculture so we can attract value-added ag processors to the state and region. That will bring badly needed jobs to areas of the state like the North Country.”
She said she will continue to advocate for additional agriculture funding in the final state budget.
The assemblywoman said funding is needed in a number of areas at a time when low milk prices are making dairy farming a struggle.
She reiterated her call for the state to provide dairy farmers a quality premium payment linked to meeting reductions over a three-year period in somatic cell count in fluid milk from the federally mandated 750,000/ml to 400,000/ml - the same level used in the European Union and the highest global standard," according to the assemblywoman.
She said high somatic cell counts are associated with bacterial infections in cows that result in lower yields and low quality milk. This program would operate over three years and give farmers a competitive leg up on the global dairy industry.
Assemblywoman Jenne has called on the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to develop premium payments at a cost of between $50 and $100 million for farmers who reach annual targets toward the goal of reducing the statewide somatic cell count.
Her proposal calls for premium payments to go up to $3 per-hundredweight, triggered if the price per-hundredweight of milk falls more than 9 percent below the monthly milk cost-of-production (COP) calculation from the federal Department of Agriculture. Her plan calls for those payments to be phased out as the price of milk closes in on the cost of production.
Assemblywoman Jenne said the premium payment would signal to the agriculture sector that New York supports and embraces the industry, values quality and understands the role of farmers in our small communities and the global food supply chain.
Providing support and stability will help bring further investment to rural New York, stabilize farm businesses and help facilitate the transition of farms to the next generation by providing farmers the ability to address financial barriers and by demonstrating. Those investments will also demonstrate New York wants agriculture to be a central part of our economy and way of rural life for years to come.
She noted she will also continue to advocate for increased funding as a result of the successes she has seen in the first year of a farm-to-school pilot program that was launched in the North Country for the current school year.
The Farm-to-School program helps farmers sell to nearby customers, expanding sales by providing locally grown food to North Country schools. Students also benefit by having access to fresh, nutritious locally-sourced food.
The Assembly budget restores $300,000 for the Adirondack North Country Association Farm-to-School program, which is administering the pilot program this school year.
“It has often been too burdensome for schools to purchase from New York State farmers,” Assemblywoman Jenne said. “My program helps support local farmers while getting healthy food into the mouths of our kids. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
She said she is hopeful additional funding will be provided to the farm-to-school pilot program during budget negotiations so it can be expanded to other areas of the North Country.
"Eight of the 10 regional councils in the state are upstate, and most - if not all - of those councils have some focus on growing jobs in the agriculture sector in their economic development plans. Agriculture has taken a back seat for too long in our state's economic development policies," according to Assemblywoman Jenne said.
"We have added millions to the executive budget's proposal for spending in agriculture, and it still doesn't go far enough. A state policy that only focuses on tax credits for farmers that are currently struggling due to low milk prices isn't the answer. We need to make less restrictive funding available to our farmers and producers so they can make investments that will allow them to make decisions the best allow them to be efficient, environmental stewards and serve as the engine for rural job creation opportunities," she stressed.
Assemblywoman Jenne also said funding for agriculture included in the Assembly's one-house budget will benefit the state and create or maintain employment in the short term and long-term.
The Assembly’s plan provides a total of $26.3 billion in education funding. That’s an increase of $1.8 billion – or 7.4 percent – over last year, and $887 million more than the executive’s proposal.
It also rejects the executive proposal’s repeal of the Foundation Aid formula. The Assembly Majority believes the formula is too important in ensuring that resources are directed in the most fair and equitable manner.
However, important updates were made to make sure the formula still accurately reflects the cost of educating a child in New York, as well as the number of children living in poverty. The Assembly’s proposal makes a commitment to phase in the remaining Foundation Aid over the course of four years, while adjusting and updating the formula to ensure fairness.
Foundation Aid would be increased by $1.4 billion for the 2017-18 school year for a total of $17.8 billion, which is $1 billion more than the executive plan. The Assembly plan also distinguishes Community Schools Aid as an independent category to ensure Foundation Aid and Community Schools each receive adequate funding, respectively.
"We lost hundreds and hundreds of jobs at our local schools over the past decade. We have made positive steps in the past couple of budgets that allowed schools to add staff back. That's important because those educators allow our schools to provide programs our students need to be competitive in college and in the work world," Assemblywoman Jenne said.
The state Assembly's one-house budget calls for investing millions and millions of dollars into the infrastructure to repair roads and bridges and make improvements to water and waste water systems.
"Those infrastructure improvements are critical to our ongoing economic development efforts and will provide employment opportunities for thousands and thousands of New Yorkers as that work is being completed," said Assemblywoman Jenne.
The Assembly’s budget proposal includes $715 million in Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) – $50 million more than the executive’s proposal. AIM funding provides direct state aid to local governments.
Assemblywoman Jenne noted most of the roads and bridges throughout the state are maintained by dedicated local highway departments. Despite their best efforts, many still need important repairs because the funding hasn’t kept pace.
The Assembly is committed to helping the North Country repair roads and bridges to keep our communities safe, allowing our residents to get to work and four businesses to flourish. The Assembly’s budget proposal increases funding for the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) to $488 million, a $50 million increase from the proposed executive budget.
• Water Safety:
The Assembly proposal strengthens the executive’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017.
The Assembly wants to build upon the program in order to assist municipalities by providing grants to improve water quality, which include:
· $1.1 billion for the 2015 Water Infrastructure Improvement Act;
· $138 million for the replacement of lead drinking water service lines;
· $110 million for an inter-municipal regional water infrastructure grant program;
· $70 million for water quality improvement; and
· $80 million for green infrastructure.
"We know these investments in our water and waste water are necessary for the health and safety of our residents and also will provide the infrastructure that businesses and industries consider when they are siting new locations," according to Assemblywoman Jenne.
"We have seen the challenges North Country communities are facing, and this funding can assist our cities, towns and villages meet those needs," she added.