By Jordan Lamb, DeWitt Ross & Stevens
On Sunday, July 12, Governor Walker signed the 2015-17 biennial budget bill into law. The bill contains a number of provisions that are critical for Wisconsin farmers. The following provides a summary of some of the issues more important for Wisconsin agriculture.
- DATCP Board and DNR Board Preserved. The budget bill that was initially proposed by Governor Walker proposed the elimination of the citizen-member DATCP Board and citizen-member DNR Board, replacing them with advisory councils. The Legislature deleted this provision from the budget. Accordingly, both the DATCP Board and the DNR Board continue as citizen boards.
- Livestock Premises Registration Program Funded. The budget bill continues to fund the Livestock Premises Registration program at the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC) with $250,000 annually. However, the bill does eliminate the one vacant position at DATCP that had existed should that position need to be utilized for this program. (Note: The DATCP position has not been used for this program in the past, as all operations to-date have been conducted by WLIC.)
- Veterinary Examining Board (VEB) Moves to DATCP. The VEB will move from the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) to DATCP. DATCP already houses the State Veterinarian and the Division of Animal Health.
- Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab Stays at UW-Madison. As proposed, the Governor’s budget would have moved the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (WVDL) from UW-Madison to DATCP. However, in the final budget, the WVDL will remain attached to the University of Wisconsin.
- UW Discovery Farms Preserved. The Legislature voted to retain the program and funding for UW Discovery Farms. This program will continue its on-farm research that is critical to assist farmers in meeting water quality goals.
- Farmer-Led Watershed Grant Program Created. The Governor’s proposed budget created a new farmer-led watershed grant program at DATCP. This program is designed to enhance nonpoint source pollution abatement by funding projects developed by farmers. The program is funded at $250,000 annually but requires matching funds provided by grant recipients and also caps the maximum fiscal year grant award at $20,000 per recipient.
- Agricultural Chemical Cleanup Program (ACCP) Fund Transferred. The 2015-17 biennial budget contained a transfer of $2 million from the ACCP Fund to fund county conservation staff. These funds were generated by fertilizer tonnage and pesticide registration fees.
- Manufacturing and Agriculture Income Tax Credit Implementation Slowed. The implementation of the MAC credit is slightly delayed.The bill reduces the MAC percentage from 5.526% to 5.025% for tax year 2015, but retains the full implementation of the credit at 7.5% for tax year 2016. The credit was reduced in order to pay for numerous other tax changes including the increased in the marriage credit and the federalization of the alternative minimum tax.
In addition, the 2015-17 biennial budget provided a significant cut in funding to the University of Wisconsin System. Overall, the 2015-17 biennial budget reduced state funding to the UW System by about $250 million. The Legislature also froze tuition for two more years. The effect of these cuts on the agricultural colleges is yet to be determined.
Finally, the Legislature struggled to come to agreement on funding transportation projects in this budget bill. The final budget did not contain any significant revenue increases to the transportation fund, including no increases to either the gas tax or registration fees. The bill authorizes $850,213,600 in transportation revenue bonds to fund road projects. This is a decrease in the proposed bonding authorization. Accordingly, funding for the north leg of the Zoo Interchange project was deleted along with several other highway projects and several major highway projects have been delayed for two years.