Farm Bureau applauds restoration of Department of Livestock funding in bill
The Montana Farm Bureau applauds the Senate’s passage of HB2, the General Appropriations Act, by the Montana House of Representatives. Of interest to Montana Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups was the funding for the Department of Livestock, namely for the State Animal Diagnostic Lab in Bozeman and for the Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) around Yellowstone National Park.
“In the past, funding has been cut for the DOL,” explains MFBF executive vice president John Youngberg. “The Senate restored the funding after Farm Bureau, other industry groups and members of the Board of Livestock worked with legislators to give them a plan to ensure the DOL wouldn’t be spending in the red anymore. The industry was very involved to make sure DOL has a budget they can live with.
HB2 included language to allow general fund dollars to be partially used for Animal Diagnostic Lab funding because of the human health component. “Forty-one percent of the diseases tested at the lab are zoonotic diseases, meaning they are transmissible to humans,” said Youngberg. “Because of that tie-in, in years past, the lab funding had included up to 50 percent general fund; however, because of state budget concerns, funding had been whittled down to a mere 14 percent.”
The majority of funding for the lab currently comes from per-capital taxes on livestock. In addition, as the Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) continued to grow in size and number of cattle being tested for brucellosis, per-capita dollars were used to make up the difference. The re-allocation of those dollars from brands and other divisions of the department has resulted in shortfalls in those divisions.
Youngberg explains that the DSA testing is not just about human health (brucellosis can cause undulant fever in humans), but is also a wildlife issue. Cattle need to be tested because they become infected by wildlife. “Because wildlife belongs to the public, it was agreed that the general fund needed to contribute to some of the funding for the testing,” he noted. “These realities were addressed and legislators realized they needed to put some money back in from the general fund.”
“This is a huge bill, but we are pleased it’s going to give the Department of Livestock a chance to redeem themselves,” Youngberg said. “They will have to prove they can manage and work within their budget. If they have a deficit by the time the next session rolls around in 2017, that will indeed be a very serious problem.”
The bill returns to the House for approval on the Senate amendment, the heads to the conference committee where it will be discussed and changed until it reaches the governor’s desk to be signed – or not signed – into law.