AFR Lobbyist Steve Thompson Says Oklahoma Starting to See Some Sunshine, Politically SpeakingFri, 27 Apr 2018 12:21:35 CDT
As things wind down at the State Capitol, Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays caught up with Steve Thompson, director of government relations for American Farmers & Ranchers, to discuss his perspective of recent legislative activity this session representing the interests of AFR members statewide. You can listen to that full conversation by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below at the bottom of the page.
Thompson believes state policymakers will eventually close this session in a week or less as they wrap up what is left to finish regarding the state’s budget, which should hit the Governor’s desk any time. Aside from that, he says all eyes have been watching as debate rages on over possible changes to wind energy tax credits that narrowly passed the House this week. These suggested changes would end some of the refundability portions of the wind energy tax credits starting in 2019 - but Thompson says it is anybody’s guess what will come of these discussions, commending the wind industry’s tactful defense. One big change seen this session, though, is a budget increase across the board, nearly 10 percent overall and 19 percent bump to the Department of Education.
“For the first time in many years, there’s a little bit of sunshine coming towards some of the state agency budget,” Thompson said noting the beginnings of some small growth in our state’s coffers. “For a change now, we have started to grow when it comes to overall tax revenue for the state. So, certainly we hope we’ll stay on this path for the foreseeable future.”
Three main policy initiatives have remained on Thompson’s radar this session, two he thinks are positive for AFR member, one maybe not so much. The two he believes will benefit producers and rural communities is the authorization to legalize hemp cultivation in Oklahoma for industrial use and an increase in fines for trespassing on farmland from $500 to $750 per occurrence. The issue that has caused some concern for Thompson is one that he says the public will begin to hear more about in the coming months - which will eventually create a state question asking to expand the uses of school building funds.
“It would be a dangerous precedent on how ad valorem taxes could be used,” he remarked. “We’re looking at that real close.”
Nationally, Thompson says AFR has remained engaged with ongoing discussions over the next Farm Bill, recently passed out of committee by the House on a party-line vote. Thompson says AFR is taking a pragmatic approach to these negotiations, with the understanding that this bill will likely evolve drastically over the next several months into the fall. However, he says the organization is pushing for increased funding to Title 1 programs and to conservation.
“This is the first step in a very long process. We’re pleased to see the bill get out of committee, but there will be lots and lots of changes to this proposal,” he said. “We’re watching that closely and will be in and out of DC to try to work on balancing all the priorities to help producers and consumers.”
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