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SARL Members and Alumni News

ND: Lawmakers push bill to create new state environmental agency

Bismarck Tribune | Posted on March 1, 2017

Lawmakers are weighing the creation of a new environmental regulatory agency, splitting off those operations from the North Dakota Department of Health. Senate Bill 2327 would move the current duties of the state Health Department’s Environmental Health Section into a new cabinet-level agency called the Department of Environmental Quality. It passed out of committee Friday with a "do pass" recommendation.Bill sponsor Sen. Jessica Unruh, R-Beulah, said this is something lawmakers have been discussing for some time.“With the new governor’s initiative to reinvent government, we felt now is the time to make this move," she said.The legislation emphasizes the separation of environmental issues from the medical world of public health. It “would send a message to the EPA we are serious about our state primacy, and this is our jurisdiction," said Unruh, who compared it to moves other states have taken.

New laws in Illinois, Michigan seek to tap power of energy efficiency

CSG- Midwest | Posted on March 1, 2017

When it came to helping craft a complex, landmark package of bills to revamp the state’s energy policy and map out the future of electric power in Michigan, Sen. Mike Nofs tried to at least keep one part of the legislative work simple and unchanging — the measure’s overarching goals.  “We wanted to control our destiny, regardless of the policies being set at the federal level,” he says. “And that meant focusing on affordability, reliability and clean energy.” And that, in turn, led him and other lawmakers to make efficiency — or “waste reduction,” as it is now referred to in Michigan statute —  a big part of the state’s new energy law, which was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in late 2016 (SB 437 and SB 438). Only weeks before, another Midwestern state, Illinois, also took sweeping actions on energy policy, with a law that includes new incentives and standards for its utilities to achieve greater efficiency.

Indiana among Midwestern states seeking fairer property-tax formula for farm producers

CSG- Midwest | Posted on March 1, 2017

Indiana Sen. Jean Leising knows it’s going to be another tough year for beef and hog producers, and 2016’s record national yields for corn and soybeans indicate that farm profitability will decline for the third straight year.  But she says a statutory revision made by the state legislature last year might at least help ease the pain for agricultural producers when it comes to paying their property taxes. “The drop in net farm income again this year makes the changes Indiana made to the farmland-taxation calculation in 2016 even more important,” Leising adds. In Indiana and seven other Midwestern states (Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin), property tax valuations of farmland are built off a “base rate,” which, in turn, is determined by the land’s income potential. Most of these states also then use multi-year rolling averages to calculate the income potential. This framework for assessing agricultural land can prevent dramatic increases based on an isolated economic event, but it also has a potential downside for agricultural producers: While their net incomes may have fallen due to declining commodity prices or rents, for example, the valuation of their property is still including more-prosperous years when commodity prices were high and interest rates low. That is occurring right now in many of the region’s states, and has led to calls for tax relief of some kind. 

Kansas bill offers incentives to attract more businesses to job-scarce rural areas of state

CSG- Midwest | Posted on March 1, 2017

Seven years ago, Kansas lawmakers adopted new incentives for individuals to move to the state and make one of its 77 rural counties their new home. The Rural Opportunity Zones program offers a mix of income tax waivers (for up to five years) and student-loan repayments of $15,000. But as much as he supports the idea, Kansas Rep. Troy Waymaster says another part of the economic challenges for rural areas must somehow be met.  “The problem is when there is no job for them to take, [people] probably are not going to move [to the rural counties],” he notes. “This is the other half of the equation: how you get jobs to move back.”This year, he introduced the Ad Astra Rural Jobs Act (HB 2168), which would provide tax credits to investors who help businesses expand, locate or relocate in Kansas’ rural areas, many of which are struggling due to trends in their two dominant industries: agriculture and oil. In both sectors, commodity prices are low. “When [rural areas’] dominant economic engines are in an economic downturn, it really has a catastrophic effect for the entire city or region,” says Waymaster, whose home county of Russell has a population of less than 7,000. “You don’t have farmers having excess cash where they can go out and buy new equipment and new machinery,” he adds, “and on the oil side, you’re not seeing the drilling that was going on [earlier in the decade].”

Washington Farm Bureau joins suit against pay, sick leave law

Capital Press | Posted on February 27, 2017

The Washington Farm Bureau and other business groups are suing to overturn the initiative that raised the minimum wage and mandated paid sick leave, pointing to a 2016 state Supreme Court ruling to bolster their claim the double-barreled measure is unconstitutional. The lawsuit contends Initiative 1433 imposed two policies. Washington’s constitution limits initiatives to one subject, an article the high court cited last year in voiding a tax-cutting measure sponsored by Tim Eyman. Farm Bureau CEO John Stuhlmiller said Friday that he hopes the Supreme Court will apply the same reasoning to I-1433, though he acknowledged it’s been a long time since the high court sided with the bureau. “That weighs heavily on everybody’s mind,” he said. “Candidly, I don’t want to go to the Supreme Court for anything.” I-1433 passed statewide in November with 57 percent of the vote, but failed in every county east of the Cascades. Several Western Washington counties also voted against the measure, but it won by lopsided margins in the most populous Puget Sound counties. The initiative was championed by unions and community activists. Gov. Jay Inslee collected signatures to qualify it for the ballot. After I-143 passed, former Supreme Court justice Phil Talmadge approached business groups about challenging the initiative. Talmadge referred questions to Patrick Connor, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

SARL joins hundreds of organizations requesting White House support for rural infrastructure

Rebuild Rural Letter | Posted on February 24, 2017

Dear Mr. President:
On behalf of our respective organizations, which collectively represent U.S. agricultural producers, rural businesses, rural communities, and rural families, we are writing to ask your support for rebuilding infrastructure in rural America. We were very pleased to hear your comments about the importance of rebuilding U.S. infrastructure. Those of us in rural communities have seen our infrastructure deteriorate, jeopardizing jobs, our agricultural competitiveness, and the health of rural families. Past infrastructure initiatives often focused on urban and suburban infrastructure while not adequately addressing the unique needs of rural communities. We ask that you address this as part of your administration’s comprehensive infrastructure renewal efforts. American agriculture truly feeds the world and creates millions of jobs for U.S. workers. Our nation’s ability to produce food and fiber and transport it efficiently across the globe is a critical factor in U.S. competitiveness internationally. Infrastructure that supports rural communities and links them to global markets has helped make the U.S. the unquestioned leader in agricultural production. Our deteriorating infrastructure threatens that leadership position. Transportation infrastructure improvement is the most obvious need in rural communities, but not the only one. Highways, bridges, railways, locks and dams, harbors and port facilities all need major investment if we are to continue efficiently getting our agricultural products to market. For example, onequarter of our road system’s bridges require significant repair, or cannot efficiently handle today’s traffic and many of the 240 locks and dams along the inland waterways are in need of modernization. In addition, though, critical needs exist in providing clean water for rural families, expanding broadband to connect rural communities to the outside world, and enhancing the ability to supply affordable, reliable and secure power for the rural economy.

Nebraska coalition aims for property tax reform, stable school funding

Omaha World Herald | Posted on February 24, 2017

Nebraska taxpayers, farmers, ranchers, teachers and others ratcheted up the pressure for reducing property taxes.Sixteen organizations representing thousands of state residents announced they have joined forces as Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education.Leaders said the new coalition represents an expansion of efforts to reduce the state’s reliance on property taxes, while providing adequate and sustainable education funding. The coalition includes the Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Farmers Union — two groups that often differ on agricultural issues.

South Dakota squashes COOL attempt

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on February 24, 2017

South Dakota’s legislature has scrapped a move to require country-of-origin labeling on meat sold in that state.

How States Engage in Evidence-Based Policymaking

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on February 24, 2017

Evidence-based policymaking is the systematic use of findings from program evaluations and outcome analyses (“evidence”) to guide government policy and funding decisions. By focusing limited resources on public services and programs that have been shown to produce positive results, governments can expand their investments in more cost-effective options, consider reducing funding for ineffective programs, and improve the outcomes of services funded by taxpayer dollars. While the term “evidence-based policymaking” is growing in popularity in state capitols, there is limited information about the extent to which states employ the approach. This report seeks to address this gap by: 1) identifying six distinct actions that states can use to incorporate research findings into their decisions, 2) assessing the prevalence and level of these actions within four human service policy areas across 50 states and the District of Columbia, and 3) categorizing each state based on the final results.

Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on February 24, 2017

States have regained much of the fiscal and economic ground they lost in the Great Recession, but not all have fully rebounded, despite more than seven years of recovery. Some states are in a stronger position than others as they try to gauge how long the economic recovery will last and how President Donald Trump’s promises of action on federal taxes, trade, and health insurance could affect their finances. The slow pace of tax revenue growth has left many with little or no wiggle room in their budgets. Twenty-three states still collect less tax revenue than at their recession-era peaks, after adjusting for inflation, and most have a thinner financial cushion than they did before the last downturn. In addition, 18 states’ employment rates still trail 2007 levels. Despite these challenges, personal income in all states has bounced back above pre-recession figures, though growth has fallen short of historic norms. The primary objective of Fiscal 50 is to provide insights into states’ long-term fiscal health on a range of metrics. This tool is not meant to be a comprehensive assessment of a state’s finances or a replica of state budget statistics that are published by a variety of experts. Rather, Fiscal 50 selectively presents data and analyses that help states look beyond their current budgets, size up their progress over time, consider different ways to measure performance, and easily compare their outcomes with neighbors or peers that have similar resources and challenges.