BY MICHON LINDSTROM KENTUCKY
FRANKFORT, Ky – The 2020 General Assembly session is under way in Frankfort and the Kentucky Farm Bureau has several priorities they would like to see passed during this budget year.
KFB says it’s important funds from the Master Settlement Agreement are continued to be invested in agriculture.
“We’ve invested so much money in the last 12 or 13 years in agriculture because of the wisdom the legislature had to set aside money and invest it in agriculture and agriculture ventures that affect the whole state of Kentucky,” said Mark Haney, President of the Kentucky Farm Bureau. “We want to continue to make sure that’s protected that that is continued.”
Tax reform is also a topic that is likely to come up during the legislative session as lawmakers try to craft a budget where the cost continues to go up but revenue remains stagnant. Haney says they hope Kentucky maintains the sales tax exemption for production agriculture.
“The farmer has no ability to pass on those tax inputs. Basically many farmers buy at the retail level and sell it at wholesale so it puts a squeeze there,” Haney said.
Ensuring all Kentuckians have access to broadband and high speed internet is another top priority for KFB.
“When we hear from our members they are saying we have got to have better telecommunications, we have got to have better phone service across the state, we have to be able to be connected, better connectivity with broadband,” Haney said. “It’s easy to say we’re all connected, we all have internet access. But the quality and speed of it is another thing.”
Haney says this isn’t just a rural issue but an all-Kentucky issue, noting many people in underserved urban areas also have trouble accessing high speed internet.
Having lawmakers continue to fund the Soil Erosion and Water Quality Cost-Share Program is another thing KFB members would like to see.
“We want to protect our natural resources that’s what we have we want to be able to replenish those as we make investment into that. It’s certainly going to be important for our children and our grandchildren,” Haney said.
KFB is not only focused on state issues they have several federal policy priorities as well. 40 percent of Kentucky’s agriculture products have to be sold globally making the issue of trade extremely important to KFB. The United States House of Representatives has passed a modified version of the United States Mexico Canada Agreement. But the Senate has not taken up the measure to ratify it. Haney says while farmers have been able to make it through payments from the federal government, they are still hopeful Congress can ratify the trade deal and feel more confindent now that the measure is in the Senate.
“We’re excited to move it in the Senate,” Haney says. “The Senate is where we can have more influence. There’s less members of course and every state has the same number of legislators. So when there is a piece of legislation moving that we want to influence the most we have more luck working on it in the Senate.”
That’s what is happening with the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, Haney says. The measure passed the House, but with some components KFB does not fully support. KFB members are most concerned with the H-2A program and getting immigrant workers on their farm.
“We would like to see a more standardized rate of wage, every year it keeps raising and keeps raising, however in this new bill it does cap the wage rate for the next five years. But it raises it before it caps it, so it’s hard for our members to understand or accept,” Haney said. “We’re not advocating for cheap labor. We want good solid efficient labor that’s well managed and we can work with year-round, we want to be able to have an extended period of time.”
Currently workers under the H-2A program are only eligible to work for 11 months before having to leave.
“Everything that we want to do is really just common sense, really just common sense, simplify the workload,” Haney said. “Cut through all the red tape and make it easier. That’s what we want to do.”