In posts like April 10's Exchange between Hamilton & Hansen spells out unique pork in proposed Ag Transfer board, Bluestem has been raising questions about the scheme by Representative Rodney Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) to set up the Agricultural Research, Extension and Technology Transfer Board.
Now the editorial board of the Star Tribune has raised similar points in New Minnesota ag board would set troubling precedent:
Giving special interests easy access to state funds is a lousy idea.
An agricultural powerhouse of a state like Minnesota should be plowing healthy sums into agricultural research to ensure abundant yields and economic growth far into the future. But a legislative proposal with the noble aim of boosting state support is unfortunately based on a dubious strategy — routing the additional public dollars through a new board whose voting members are often self-appointed by political special interests.
The measure is known in Capitol shorthand as the “Ag Transfer Board.’’ Officially, it’s dubbed the “Agricultural Research, Extension and Technology Transfer Board’’ by the Minnesota House legislation that would make it a reality and potentially provide at least $7 million in funding over the next biennium (requested sums have been a moving target during the session but at one point were at $37 million for the biennium). The board also has a powerful champion: Republican Rep. Rod Hamilton, chairman of the House Agricultural Finance Committee. Similar legislation in the Senate doesn’t set up the board, but requires University of Minnesota officials to “consult with stakeholders representing general farm, forestry and agricultural producer organizations.”
The House version has momentum thanks to Hamilton’s influence and the lobbying might of agricultural organizations backing it. Proponents also pitch the board as better able to respond to emerging crop and animal diseases — a selling point as turkey farmers grapple with the spread of avian flu. But legislators and state and university officials already have the ability to target dollars to crises like those. A convincing argument has not yet been made in numerous committee hearings for how a large, new board would expedite rather than slow this process.
The board would also establish a troubling precedent on control of general fund dollars, which would provide the board’s funding. Essentially, the legislation creates a pot of public money and turns it over to interest group representatives with vague language about how it could be spent. . . .
The state does have other independent boards with influence over spending of public dollars. A well-known one is the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. But that board makes recommendations for legislators to approve. The new agricultural board, if it becomes a reality, appears to be the first entity that would be authorized to spend general fund dollars without this approval. That some interest groups would appoint their board representatives also appears unusual.
Special-interest groups are not accountable to the public. . . .
Read the entire editorial in the Strib.
Bluestem wonders why we need more bureaucracy in order to adequately fund agricultural research and ag education and farm management (and don't get us started on "leadership education" that's little more than teaching public affairs "communications" techniques; the state shouldn't be in the propaganda education business for any industry).
Ag research and education are well-established public interests that can be served by government. The American tradition of doing so goes back to the establishment of land-grant colleges by the Morrill Act back in the 19th Century.
Handing over public money to special interests to make the decisions about how to spend that money? Not so much.
Photo: Representative Rod Hamilton, who wants to be known as a pork producer in more ways than one.
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