The legislature adjourned the 2016 legislative session on May 4th, 2016. There were two special sessions to complete the legislature’s business, which included votes on the budget, budget implementer bill, and the conveyance act. Below is a summary of the 2016 session.
Key Legislative Successes
Constitutional Amendment to Better Protect Public Land (SJ 36/Resolution 16-1) This resolution to better protect our public lands – including our state-held conservation and agricultural land – passed in both chambers on the last day of the regular session. This resolution would ensure a much more transparent public process is required before public lands can be sold, swapped, or given away by the General Assembly. It specifically would require that any proposed conveyances receive a public hearing and a 2/3 majority vote on a a bill that is dedicated to that proposed conveyance of state land. This is a huge step forward in the effort to ensure more robust protections for our state-held lands. However, because of the rules of the legislature governing amendments to the state constitution, this resolution must be passed again in the 2017-18 legislative session so that the question will appear on the statewide ballot in November 2018.
Bill to Enhance FarmLink Program Passes
House Bill 5383/Public Act 16-7, which WLA helped get raised and supported through the legislative process, passed on the last night of the session and was signed into law by the Governor in June 2016. This bill expands and enhances the FarmLink program and will provide the Department of Agriculture more flexibility to fund the boots-on-the-ground work needed to connect farmland owners with farmland seekers. It also allows the Ag Viability Grant program to fund programs and services that promote farmland access and farm transfer.
Significant Cuts to State Budget
This session was a particularly difficult session for CT lawmakers, who faced significant deficits both for FY16 and for FY17, which just commenced on July 1. Our state agencies tasked with protecting farmland and conservation lands and directly supporting farmers and farm businesses took large cuts.
- CT Department of Agriculture: The budget for the Department of Agriculture was cut by $433,000.
- CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP): The budget for DEEP was cut by $7.5 million.
- CT Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES): The budget for CAES was cut by over $1 million.
- CT Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ): The CEQ’s budget was cut by $12,000; however CEQ was initially proposed for elimination in earlier versions of the budget. The good news is it will remain intact.
Community Investment Act
As part of the budget cuts, the Community Investment Act – which funds farmland protection, agricultural programs, open space conservation, historic preservation, and affordable housing – was cut by $6 million to balance the FY16 budget and by another $1 million for the FY17 budget. This is in addition to the 50% sweep that took effect on January 1st as part of last year’s biennial budget.
The legislature also eliminated $5 million in existing bond authorizations for the Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation Program and $7.5 million for DEEP’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition grant program.
In closing, the session was undoubtedly a difficult one, but we are grateful to all of our members, supporters, and partners who advocated on behalf of the critical programs and agencies that protect farmland and conservation land, and directly support our farm families. Thank you for your hard work!