Ag-related programs take cuts in state budget
The state-wide shutdown surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic took a significant toll on state revenue, creating a difficult moving target for the Georgia Legislature to aim for while balancing the state budget as required by the Georgia Constitution.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed the $26 billion budget on June 30. The final FY21 budget was better than expected. Initial revenue estimates called for a 14% cut across the board that was adjusted to 11% when the legislature reconvened in June. After a last-minute decision by Kemp to use $250 million of the state’s rainy-day fund, the final cut came in at 10%.
The budget reductions will affect all aspects of state government, including the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) and the UGA Cooperative Extension Service.
The biggest cuts at the GDA were in the agency’s Marketing & Promotion Division, where a $2.49 million cut included reduction of personnel funding for five positions and part-time assistance ($1.353 million) and cuts to marketing, auditing, call center services and gardening ($820,000) and operations ($341,284).
The GDA budget includes $200,000 for the development of the Georgia Hemp Program, but a $461,858 fund cut for operations and contracts. Funds were eliminated for the state farmers markets in Macon and Augusta but $120,000 for operating expenses at the Cordele, Thomasville and Savannah state farmers markets was funded along with $620,000 for marketing activities at the Georgia National Fair, Sunbelt Expo and other activities.
The GDA budget calls for a $361,490 cut to the Athens and Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic Labs and a $100,000 reduction in operating expenses for the Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority, which oversees the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter.
The Georgia Department of Education’s Agricultural Education funding for the Area Teacher Program, Extended Day/Year, Young Farmers, and Youth Camps was cut by $842,878.
The UGA Cooperative Extension Service budget was slashed by more than $6.2 million, the biggest reduction coming in funds for vacant and temporary positions, operations and travel ($4.8 million). The Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation budget was cut by $237,449, and the Georgia Student Finance Authority’s funding for the Food Animal Veterinarian Forgiveness Program was trimmed by $105,000. The Department of Natural Resources budget includes $200,000 for two marine biologists to support oyster aquaculture.