Here is an update on WLA’s advocacy efforts and some areas where we will need the full engagement of our coalition:
On February 10th, Governor Malloy joined the Working Lands Alliance’s Steering Committee meeting at the Capitol. We were fortunate to engage the Governor on a number of topics, including the pace of farmland preservation in Connecticut, the role of state agencies and land trusts in addressing farmland access issues, and the critical role UConn Extension plays for Connecticut producers.
The Governor reiterated his support for CT agriculture and for the Farmland Preservation Program, and affirmed his commitment to continuing robust funding for the Program. We are grateful for his support and look forward to continuing these conversations with the Governor and his staff over the next four years.
On February 18th, the Governor released his Biennial budget for FY16 and FY17. There are a few bright spots, but certainly many areas of great concern to our coalition and our partners.
First, the good news:
- The Governor recommended $10 million in bond funding annually over the next two fiscal years for both the Farmland Preservation Program and the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program (thus, $20 million total for each program over the two year budget). The Governor also recommended $1M in bond funding for the Farm Reinvestment Program for FY17.
- The Department of Agriculture’s overall budget remained intact, with small increases over the next two fiscal years.
And now, the tough news:
- The Governor’s budget proposes a complete sweep of Community Investment Act (CIA) funds from January 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 (See Section 29 in SB 946). This means that, if passed, all CIA funds that typically would be slated for worthwhile investments in farmland preservation/dairy support, open space, historic preservation efforts, and affordable housing will be deposited in the general fund over that time period.
- The Governor’s deficiency budget for the current FY also proposes to sweep $15.2 million in existing Community Investment Act funds to help address the current deficit. (See section 5 in HB 6825.) These sweeps of Community Investment Act Funds are unprecedented – and will require strong advocacy efforts to reverse.
- Other areas of concern to our coalition include the proposed elimination of staff funding for the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) – the state’s environmental watchdog agency – and the proposed transfer of CEQ to the Office of Legislative Management. Finally, the budget proposes significant cuts to Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the majority of which will impact its Conservation programs.
The bottom line is this is a very difficult budget year and we have a lot of work to do. There is a long way to go until a budget is passed by the legislature and we will keep you informed when there are key moments to weigh in. We will be depending on all of you to get involved over the next few months.