Job Losses from Budget Impasse May Soon Affect Pa. Agriculture I - Erie News Now | WICU & WSEE in Erie, PA

Job Losses from Budget Impasse May Soon Affect Pa. Agriculture Industry

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Soon, we could see the first significant job losses from Pennsylvania's state budget impasse. It's stems from a lack of funding in the 2015-16 budget to agricultural programs at Penn State University, affecting over 1,000 jobs and even county fairs.

In December, Gov. Tom Wolf line-item vetoed the Land Scrip Fund in the budget, which remains only 87 percent complete. That funding would've provided $50.5 million to Penn State University's College of Agricultural Sciences. Penn State operates 67 county extension offices and other departments across the commonwealth.

The cuts could layoff about 1,100 state employees, including those at the Erie County Extension Office, said Chuck Gill, spokesperson for the Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, during a telephone interview Monday. The cuts would also affect funding to programs like 4-H and Penn State's Master Gardener programs, even shutting down county fairs across Pennsylvania.

Gill said Penn State president, Eric Barron, projects the programs would be adequately funded through May 1, but layoffs would likely begin soon thereafter.

He said the budget impasse would likely eliminate the chance to get greater federal funding for these programs, as well.

"The federal portion of the monies we get for ag (agricultural) research and extension require a state match," said Gill. "So if that Land Scrip Fund would remain at zero, we would likely lose the federal funds, as well."

Gov. Wolf's office remains optimistic that those employees will remain on the job. But a spokesperson for his office says the governor was forced to eliminate funding for the Land Scrip Fund because Republican leaders sent the governor an "irresponsible budget," leaving Wolf to cut corners.

"The governor used his line-item veto power to ensure the budget was balanced and because Republican leaders did not provide revenue to pay for their budget," said Jeff Sheridan, Wolf's press secretary.

Wolf is proposing a 5 percent increase in the Land Script Fund in his 2016-17 budget, Sheridan said, which is about $2.4 million more than 2015-16.

County fairs could take a hit as well, if not shut down altogether in 2016, Gill warned. Leaders of the Crawford County Fair agree, saying small fairs throughout Pennsylvania rely on a small portion of funding to put on their show each year. The impasse has also held up capital improvement projects at the Crawford County Fair, said Diana Perry, co-director and treasurer.

The Crawford County Fair is the largest agricultural fair in Pennsylvania. Perry insists the Fair shouldn't be effected by the impasse because the Fair is in August.

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