By Eric Bohl
At Missouri Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting in early December, rural Missourians voiced strong support for initiative petition reform, broadband expansion, making renewable energy project taxation more equitable and alleviating veterinarian shortages.
Over 550 delegates from every corner of Missouri debated these and many other policies before adopting the 2019 Missouri Farm Bureau Policy Book. This grassroots policy development process has been a cornerstone of Farm Bureau since its founding.
Missouri has experienced a massive increase in ballot initiatives in recent years. Out-of-state interests lead and bankroll many of these efforts. Drafters often write ballot language to appeal to a voter on first glance, but the true impacts are less obvious without significant investigation.
The new Missouri Farm Bureau policy would force initiative petitions for constitutional amendments to receive broad support from all parts of the state. Proponents would have to collect at least as many signatures in each Congressional district as eight percent of the most recent gubernatorial vote in that district. This would help guard against any single region or group overriding others’ wishes. Missourians must ensure any changes to our state’s constitution are broadly agreed upon. They should not be pushed through by small but well-funded interest groups.
New policy on broadband internet would set a floor of acceptable speeds for federally-funded projects. This policy would mandate speeds of no less than 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload. It would also make providers verify that they can and do deliver the speeds they promised in federal grant applications.
Some federal broadband grant recipients have promised speeds that were not delivered. This wastes taxpayer resources and sets back our rural communities. They have already waited long enough for true broadband service to arrive.
Taxation of wind and solar projects was also addressed. Currently state law requires that real estate taxes for most public utility infrastructure be spread across the entire state rather than remaining in the county where the assets lie.
This current policy destroys much of the incentive for rural areas to allow wind and solar developments. Local counties have to bear the burden of any road damage, injury to wildlife and diminution in aesthetic beauty. They must provide police and fire protection and community services to utility employees. Increased property taxes should offset these costs to the county. Local citizens also deserve compensation for the use of their natural resources.
Missouri is suffering from a long-term shortage of large animal veterinarians. This lack of available care can put animal health at risk. New policy supports fully funding the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri. Delegates also supported creating a task force of interested parties to find ways to address the problem.
When the legislative session begins in a few short weeks, these will be among the foremost issues on Missouri Farm Bureau’s list of priorities. With the help of the legislature and governor, we can make progress on these issues and improve the lives of all Missourians.
(Eric Bohl, of Columbia, Mo., is Director of Public Affairs for Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.)