Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
If we’ve learned anything about executive branch budget proposals over the years, it’s that they tend to be the fiscal equivalent of Russian nesting dolls. That is, once you get past the bottom line figure and the headline-grabbing proposals, there are any number of smaller, but no less important provisions tucked away in the sprawling guts of an executive spending plan.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s $37.8 billion proposed budget for the new fiscal year that starts July 1 is no different in that regard. Once you get past the proposed personal income tax hike and the $1.35 billion the administration wants to pump into K-12 education, there’s plenty of stuff in the fine print that’s worthy of closer examination.
We’ve all heard by now that agriculture is the state’s largest industry, and the administration’s spending plan nods in that direction by proposing a third round of funding for the Pennsylvania Farm Bill, a wide-ranging suite of proposals, first enacted in 2019, that appropriated $23.1 million for agricultural programs across the commonwealth.
The administration’s 2021-22 spending plan calls for a $13.6 million appropriation, the same amount it received in the 2020-21 budget, the state Department of Agriculture said in a statement.
In brief, the administration’s 2021-22 proposal sets aside:
- $2 million for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center, which assists in the creation of business, transition, or succession plans.
- $1 million for the state’s Center for Poultry & Livestock Excellence Center, which provides support for biosecurity and disease planning, as well as food safety and quality assurance efforts.
- $500,000 to open new and expanded markets for new or small meat producers.
- $2 million fo the state’s Conservation Excellence Grant Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to farmers looking to use best management practices for conservation.
- $500,000 for the state’s Agriculture Linked Investment Program, which provides low-interest loans for conservation efforts.
- $500,000 for the state’s Agriculture and Youth Grant Program, which is aimed at building knowledge and awareness of agriculture among young people.
- $500,000 for the Pennsylvania Farm to School Grant Program, which works to improve childhood nutrition.
- $3 million for the Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account, which, as the name suggests, provides financial assistance for agricultural disasters, such as the avian flu or the Spotted Lanternfly infestation.
- $1.6 million for the state’s PA Preferred Organic program.
- $1 million for the state’s regular PA Preferred program.
- $500,000 for the state’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, to encourage investment in such high-priority crops as hemp, hops, and hardwoods.
- $500,000 to encourage urban agriculture and to fight food deserts in Pennsylvania’s cities.
“As our commonwealth works to recover from the initial impacts of COVID-19, there is a strengthened need to persevere and come through this stronger than ever,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in a statement. “We’re in the midst of opening programs from the second year of funding and can see that recipients from year one of the PA Farm Bill were able to not only survive in 2020 but thrive.”
The program has historically enjoyed bipartisan support. During its inception in 2019, Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver, a farmer, and the chairman of the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, helped shepherd the first round of funding through the General Assembly.
Republicans notably held a press conference that year, where they effusively touted their support for farmers and agriculture. House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, who was then the GOP floor leader, said at the time that “there is no smarter long-term investment than Pennsylvania’s farmers.”
Whether that augurs well for Wolf’s latest round of proposed funding is another matter entirely. But precedent, and history, appears to be on the side of Pennsylvania agriculture.
Veteran state Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna, appears set to resign his seat this Monday morning to take a job with U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8th District, Stephen Caruso reports.
A new report by the American Society of Civil Engineers gives Pennsylvania a C-Minus for the state of its infrastructure. Cassie Miller goes deep on the data in this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was one of seven Republicans to vote with Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., to convict ex-President Donald Trump on a single impeachment count charging him with inciting the deadly riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Despite the broadest bipartisan vote in American history, the chamber fell short of the two-thirds majority it needed to convict Trump. Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson has the details.
The Census Bureau’s delay in releasing population data has thrown Pa.’s May primary into question, Olson also reports.
Missing data could compound vaccine rollout issues in Pa.’s Black and Hispanic communities, Cassie Miller also reports.
On our Commentary Page this morning, Trump’s impeachment lawyer, former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, was not Pa.’s finest, opinion regular Dick Polman writes. Given the blizzard of misinformation on voter fraud, teaching civics isn’t enough. Schools also need to teach information literacy, Timothy P. Williams, the superintendent of the York Suburban School District, writes. And Trump’s acquittal is a sign of ‘constitutional rot’ that threatens to destroy our democracy from the inside out if it’s not addressed, Wesleyan University government professor John E. Finn writes.
En la Estrella-Capital: Los defensores y legisladores le presionan a Wolf para que libere a más personas de la prisión estatal en medio de un invierno fuerte durante la pandemia. Y los funcionarios estatales confirman que la elegibilidad de SNAP se amplió para incluir a estudiantes universitarios.
Demonstrators in Philadelphia on Sunday called for reopening hotel rooms to the homeless amid the pandemic, the Inquirer reports.
Changes to the SAT show the diminishing importance of the exam for college admissions, the Post-Gazette reports.
The state says it’s ready for mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics, but they won’t all look the same, PennLive reports.
The Morning Call runs down what’s open and what’s closed in the Lehigh Valley this Presidents Day.
The Citizens-Voice looks at the difficulty of trying to gather petition signatures during the pandemic.
The York Daily Record explains how York County is prepping for the vaccine.
Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:
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WHYY-FM introduces you to a Philadelphia couple who got engaged with identical murals.
Spotlight PA explains how the state failed to deliver millions of dollars in pandemic rent relief (via WITF-FM).
After the Affordable Care Act, there are fewer uninsured people in Erie County, GoErie reports.
The Mon Valley Hospital is allowing limited visitation, the Observer-Reporter reports.
PoliticsPA runs down last week’s winners and losers in state politics.
The Biden administration is looking to squelch a Trump White House policy that promised six months’ notice to states on immigration policy changes, Stateline.org reports.
Will impeachment even have an impact on the 2022 U.S. Senate races, Roll Call wonders.
What Goes On.
Today is Presidents’ Day in Pennsylvania and across the country. The Legislature is not in session. Today seems like an excellent day to read up on the history of the Republic and to remind yourself, again, that our democracy is a fragile one that depends on all of us to protect and nurture it. We’ll be returning to George Washington’s farewell address, the most succinct distillation of the principles that should guide our leaders.
You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out today to Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-Delaware; former 15th Senate district candidate George Scott, of Harrisburg, and the legendary Dave Davies, of WHYY-FM in Philadelphia, all of whom celebrated on Sunday. Additional best wishes go out this morning to reader Michael Sadowski, of Harrisburg, who celebrates today. Congrats and enjoy the day.
Stop whatever you’re doing right now, and listen, please, really listen, to this soul-shattering song by singer/songwriter Kate Tempest: ‘People’s Faces.’ We heard it for the first time while out for an extended, head-clearing walk on Sunday morning. And though she’s from the U.K., you can take the lyrics here and apply them to our own national situation. It’s an indictment of where we are, and a prescription for how we can get better if we want to try.
Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Pittsburgh skated past Washington 6-3 on Sunday night. It’s the fourth straight loss for the Caps.
And now you’re up to date.