The 2023 Missouri Legislative Session concluded May 12, and much of the focus was on dedicating taxpayer funds in the state budget. The approved $50 billion budget is the largest in state history. It’s ballooned significantly in recent years, primarily due to federal funding.
Missouri Farm Bureau has long believed that the federal budget process is broken and needs to be completely revised to be more fiscally responsible. However, the General Assembly was given the task of spending these federal dollars, and we appreciate that they approved several items we advocated for that will yield long-term results for Missourians.
Notably, the General Assembly made significant investments in hard infrastructure across the state, including $2.8 billion to widen I-70 to at least three lanes in both directions from Kansas City to St. Louis, $20 million to conduct a study of I-44, and $100 million for repairing and maintaining low-volume roads. “Of high importance to our members and all of rural Missouri, is the $100 million set aside for maintaining and repairing farm-to-market roads, many of which are in severe disrepair,” Hawkins said. “Voting delegates at our December annual meeting discussed at length the state’s surface transportation needs, and we are pleased with the approach put forward by the General Assembly.”
Policymakers also invested in broadband infrastructure by allocating $247 million to Missouri’s Office of Broadband Development. Hawkins said MOFB has long pressed the need for rural Missourians to access affordable, high-speed internet and emphasized the importance of communities and counties stepping up to make sure their voices are heard as funds are distributed in the months to come.
Budget items approved include two new projects at the University of Missouri-Columbia to protect and promote the state’s livestock industry. The Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, which analyzes samples for livestock producers and is critical in responding to foreign animal diseases, received $43 million for construction and renovation. The campus also received $25 million for a new meat laboratory to provide research, training and educational support.
Other budget items of interest for MOFB members include: $1.6 million for black vulture mitigation; $650,000 for the Lower Missouri River Navigation Feasibility Study to enhance commercial navigation; and $500,000 for the Agritourism Cost-Share Program which reimburses eligible agritourism businesses for the installation of approved signs on highway right-of-ways.
The Legislature also focused on several legislative items supported by Farm Bureau. Many items were included in agriculture omnibus bills, Senate Bill 138 and House Bill 202, approved in the final days of session.
Provisions in those bills supported by Farm Bureau include:
- An income tax deduction for landowners who sell, lease, or participate in a crop-share agreement with a beginning farmer. This will help a new generation of farmers access land and capital.
- Expansion of the veterinarian student loan program which helps return large-animal and mixed-practice veterinarians to rural areas. The program will now provide annual scholarships of $30,000 to 12 veterinary students per year.
- Legislation to increase weight restrictions for local log trucks and log tractors, support biodiesel and ethanol production, and create dedicated funds for future investments in ports and programs to promote future flood resilience.
- Separate legislation increased penalties for individuals who intentionally and maliciously interfere with the transportation of livestock.
Important Farm Bureau priorities which remain unfinished:
- Legislation authorizing Farm Bureau to offer Health Plans to create an affordable, high-quality option for Missourians ran out of time for passage.
- The House passed legislation to add farmers and geographic representation from across the state to the Public Service Commission (PSC), but the Senate did not. The PSC oversees Missouri’s utilities and approves projects that depend on using private property for the success of their projects.
- Legislation languished to allow voters to consider raising the threshold to amend the constitution via initiative petition.
- Despite overwhelming popularity from the general public, the legislature did not reduce the cap on foreign-owned agricultural land.
“Missouri Farm Bureau is grateful for the leadership of our elected state officials who understand not only the economic impact, but also the inherent value of farmers, ranchers and rural citizens across our state,” Hawkins said. “Although some of our priorities did not make it across the finish line, we look forward to working with the General Assembly to pass these important items in the next legislative session.”