The House Appropriations Committee has held multiple meetings to help prepare for the 2018 budget, a process which begins in January 2017. It was decided by committee members to meet monthly during the interim to discuss and to investigate numerous issues, ranging from water quality and wastewater treatment to the outstanding maintenance cost for the Missouri state parks system, items that fall under the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Another item the committee has discussed is how the Department of Agriculture has been affected by the recent governor withholds, legislation which includes many of the items that this committee had worked on so diligently to get funded.
In addition to the DNR and Dept. of Ag discussions at some of the Appropriation meetings, monthly reports have been given to the committee by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). We have had the privilege of hearing not only from the department heads of these three groups, but also from their division directors about many issues facing our state. The Appropriations Committee on Natural Resources, Conservation, and Agriculture is responsible for more than $780 million in budget appropriations for these departments, so, obviously, there is a great interest in them.
During the July 21 hearing the committee heard from representatives of the City of Springfield concerning their integrating planning system, a system that allows them to make the best use of their money in regulation of wastewater treatments and storm water runoff. As our state’s third largest city, Springfield has a nighttime population of 160,000 that swells to almost 300,000 during the day. They have worked hard with their city’s residents concerning water-related issues and appear to have made wise financial decisions.
At our July hearing we also had a presentation from Missouri Conservation in which they addressed several problems they were encountering around the state, from feral hog control efforts to controlling the spread of invasive species (like the Asian Carp) and the regulating of approximately 86 Missouri tilapia growers. They also gave a report on the approximate1 million acres of state land they either own or manage. Of that amount approximately 800,000 acres is owned, about 200,000 acres is managed by the MDC, approximately 600,000 acres is forest and woodlands, 35,000 acres is lakes and ponds, 52,000 acres is wetland habitat, 210,000 acres is grasslands, glades, and early successional habitat, and another 70,000 acres is used for cropland.
It is important to note that approximately 8% of the MDC’s holdings were donated by private citizens. At the committee meeting it was pointed out that these conservation areas belong to the citizens of Missouri for their use and enjoyment and for the conservation of nature species and their habitats.
Finally, the committee heard a report from the Missouri Department of Agriculture on reported crop damage. In attempts to control tough weed problems, some farmers have illegally sprayed certain herbicides on dicamba soybeans, primarily in a four-county region of Missouri's boot heel. Crop-injury complaints continue to come in, and there have been some very heated discussions as to who is to blame for this problem. Some seed companies have released and sold the new dicamba soybeans without releasing an approved accompanying dicamba herbicide. Though the soybean technology was federally approved, the herbicide technology has not yet received federal approval. Several farmers have used off-line applications, in violation of U.S., state, and federal laws, and, unfortunately, the use of these off-label chemicals for weed control has created a major problem with drift to other crops.
The interim is proving to be the perfect opportunity for legislators to carefully sort through the many facts and figures presented to them. As a result of our continuing hearings, each Appropriations committee member has gained valuable information that will be extremely helpful to the process of more efficiently allocating state funds through the three departments. Not only will this information help us become more knowledgeable, but it will also give us the ability to make a better informed decision when we work on the budgeting process—and help us make the best use of Missouri taxpayer's money.