As I mentioned in my column last week, work is underway in Albany to review the governorís budget proposal, fine tune it, and work toward adoption of a final plan prior to April 1.
Education aid, funding to protect the environment, resources to improve our upstate roads and bridges, and programs to enhance our economy are among the areas that will receive quite a bit of attention in the days and weeks ahead. I am also concentrating on the portion of the state budget supporting our family farms Ė and that portion of the budget needs some work.
Agriculture is one of our stateís leading industries, with 35,000 farms supporting a workforce of over 100,000 Ė we must continue to do all we can to support this staple of our economy. Regrettably, the governorís proposed budget takes an axe to a number of programs that farmers depend on. Maple Producers, Berry Growers Association, Christmas Tree Farmers, Farm to Seniors, and Cornell Vets to Farms, just to name a few, have been completely erased from the governorís budget. A total of twenty-six programs have been zeroed out and ten more face significant cuts.
One of the programs completely cut by the governor, the New York Rollover Protection System (ROPS) Rebate Program, is a proven lifesaver. The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH), which is affiliated with the Basset Healthcare Network, administers the ROPS program which helps farmers retrofit tractors with life-saving rollover protection.
Farmers have a number of concerns Ė the price they receive for their milk, utility costs, and fuel expenses. So anything that can be done to help them deal with the financial burdens they face, while improving farm safety, has my strong support. The ROPS Rebate Program, saves our farmers money, enhances safety, and helps keep the family farming tradition alive. I have consistently fought for funding for this program, along with the other ag-related initiatives, and will do so again this year.
The local assistance programs cut by the governor add up to $9.5 million. That is a significant number, but only a small fraction of a $152 billion budget. The funds go a long way to supporting an industry which really needs a boost to survive.
On a related note, you may recall that a piece of legislation creating a tax credit for farmers who donate to a food bank or other emergency food program was vetoed by the governor at the end of last year. I am pleased to let you know that the bill has been reintroduced.
Under the bill (S.1606), farmers who live in New York State would receive a credit of up to 25 percent of the wholesale cost of a qualified food donation, up to $5,000 per year. The tax credit would help farmers recoup expenses such as transportation and labor involved with bringing unharvested or unmarketed food to a food bank, while encouraging more donations of healthy, wholesome, locally grown food.
The bill was adopted in the senate last year by a vote of 62-0 and the assembly gave it the thumbs up by a 139-0 vote. The legislation also had the support of several groups around the state including the New York Farm Bureau and the Hunger Action Network. Despite the strong bi-partisan support the governor vetoed this helpful tax credit. The governor also vetoed similar legislation in 2015 Ė the bill passed both houses unanimously that year as well.
Our farmers are key contributors to our economy and our way of life. They are also caring, community-minded individuals who are among the first to help others in need. Paying our famers back with a small tax credit will encourage additional donations and help stock our food banks with healthy fare.