Official sounds alarm over elimination of marketing program
By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- At least one Washington state legislator considers the proposed House budget "an attack on rural Washington."
Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, had just heard spokesmen from the state's agriculture community describe how they would be affected by the recommendations.
Dan Newhouse, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, told members of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee that critical roles of his agency would be drastically cut back under the proposal.
"This would be a change in perspective ... of the broad public benefit" the WSDA provides, he said. Many of the roles the agency plays in public health, environmental quality and the food supply require government support.
"There is no easy way to collect fees for many services," he said.
Elimination of marketing programs could cripple the state's export of agricultural products.
"We get great benefit, a good return on our investment," Newhouse said. In 2010, agriculture accounted for $95 million in assisted sales, yielding "tremendous" tax revenue, he said.
In response to a question from Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, Newhouse said the state's trade representatives in Japan, Taiwan and China would be "gone."
Ron Shultz of the Washington State Conservation Commission estimated that 10 to 12 conservation districts would close their doors or reduce staff. More than 40 full-time-equivalent positions would go, mostly in rural districts.
"The regulatory environment doesn't change," Shultz said, "but without incentives, landowners have no place to go. The system doesn't work without both parts."
Speaking for the Washington State Fairs Association, Heather Hansen said the proposed 75 percent cut in funds would affect small county fairs most of all. Such fairs do not have revenues from carnivals or big food concessions to fall back on, and 55 percent of them say they would not be able to continue.
"Small county fairs provide 6,000 seasonal jobs and generate sales taxes of $22 (million) to $25 million a year," Hansen said.
The loss of small county fairs would also "pull the rug out from under nonprofit organizations," which have been called upon to provide vital public services to local communities as state support decreases. "The fund is the seed that allows these other things to grow," she said.
Once both the Senate and the House of Representatives pass their budgets, a conference committee will negotiate a compromise for both houses' approval and the governor's consideration. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn April 24.
Several bills continue to move through the lawmaking process. Their status as of press time:
* SB5487, which would establish standards to protect the health of hens in commercial egg-laying operations, passed the House April 11 on a 70-27 vote. It now heads back to the Senate for concurrence.
* HB1169, concerning reintroduction of plants to be considered for listing as noxious weeds, has passed both houses and now goes to the governor.
* HB1421, establishing a community forest trust, has passed both houses and goes to the governor.
* HB1422, to authorize a pilot project for converting forest biomass into aviation fuel, has passed both houses. An amendment added in the Senate must be considered by the House.
* HB1886, implementing recommendations of the Ruckelshaus Process concerning critical habitat areas, has passed both houses. Amending language added in the Senate must be considered by the House.