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NE governor, ag groups at odds over checkoff funds

A proposal by Nebraska governor Dave Heineman to use commodity checkoff dollars to help solve the state’s budget crisis has agricultural and commodity groups up in arms.

At issue is the governor’s plan to transfer money from the various checkoff boards into the state’s general fund.  Ag and commodity groups have long contended that checkoff funds should only be spent on research and promotion of those ag products.

“We all believe that our checkoff dollars are farmer-invested funds—they’re not general tax dollars,” says Alan Tiemann of Seward, chair of the Nebraska Corn Board.  “These are funds that we use for market development, research, promotion—defending Nebraska agriculture.”    

AUDIO: Alan Tiemann (1 min MP3)

Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Jay Rempe says his group also opposes the plan.

“These programs are different, and they’ve been in existence—some of them—almost 50 years,” Rempe says, “and we’ve never transferred any dollars out of these programs for other uses before—and I think it’s a bad precedent to start now.”

AUDIO: Jay Rempe (5 min MP3)

Despite the onslaught of criticism, Heineman is standing by his proposal.  In an interview with Brownfield, Heineman says addressing the 334 million dollar revenue shortfall will require what he calls “shared sacrifice.”

“Education is willing to help—our state agencies are willing to help,” Heineman says.  “I’m simply asking every cash-funded agency, ‘Will you share in our ability to try to reduce this revenue shortfall?’.” 

Heineman says he understands the concerns being expressed by the ag groups. “I understand exactly where they’re coming from—but it’s unprecedented, the 334 million dollar revenue shortfall we have, and I think that we all share in this together,” he says. “If they aren’t willing to help, then I know what’s going to happen—we’re going to have to take more money away from the State Patrol, the Department of Agriculture and other agencies” 

AUDIO: Gov. Dave Heineman (3 min MP3)

Heineman says the state budget office reviewed all cash-funded agencies and determined that the commodity boards had some excess funds.  But Tiemann  says that’s not the case with corn.

“They’re not excess funds,” says Tiemann. “Last year we had more than 600-thousand dollars in funding requests that we were not able to fulfill because we didn’t have the budget to do it.”

Initial estimates of the dollars being discussed include 330-thousand dollars from the corn checkoff and a similar amount from the wheat checkoff.  The Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board and Nebraska Ethanol Board would also be affected. 

Tiemann says ag and commodity groups will have a chance to state their case at a hearing of the legislature’s appropriations committee on Monday.  The Nebraska legislature began meeting in special session on Wednesday to deal with budget crisis.

  • We have Missouri “the show me state” (responsible) & then we have Nebraska “ask about our state slogan contest” (even they don’t know what they are doing) – they need to get their spending in order like the rest of us did and cut back on some things – not raid the checkoff funds.

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