The Bush administration's proposed fiscal 2005 budget is filled with misplaced priorities, especially when it comes to the needs of farmers in Arkansas and other Mid-South states, says Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark.
Berry called the proposed funding levels for agriculture and infrastructure “disastrous” for several key Arkansas projects. He also criticized the plan's projected deficits, topping $521 billion in 2004, which many economists agree will lead to escalating interest rates and slowed economic growth.
“President Bush has, again, placed a low priority on agriculture research — a vital component of Arkansas' economy — by lowering funding for a second consecutive year,” said Berry, who serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee.
“While my colleagues and I continue to fight for adequate agriculture and infrastructure funding, the Bush administration recently approved millions of dollars to build a rain forest in Iowa, increase golf accessibility and fund Russian leadership development,” he noted.
Berry said he worked with colleagues on the Appropriations Committee and Energy and Water Subcommittee where he serves to restore some of the funding cuts suggested by the Bush administration in its fiscal 2004 budget.
“This year, I will work with my colleagues on the committee to insure agriculture research projects continue to provide cutting-edge technology services to rural America. I have great concerns, however, about the continued misplaced priorities of this administration.”
Discretionary spending for the Department of Agriculture would be decreased by $1.7 billion, the equivalent of an 8.1 percent decrease over fiscal 2004 funding levels.
Specifically, the president has proposed cuts in funding to USDA's Agriculture Research Service by just over $100 million, putting in jeopardy the funding for such valuable research centers in Arkansas as the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center and the Harry K. Dupree Stuttgart National Aquaculture Research Center.
“The harm to the agriculture industries reaches far beyond the agriculture portion of the president's budget,” he said. “The administration has cut Corps of Engineers programs by $600 million. The proposed funding levels don't allow for any improvements to Arkansas' waterways and highways — in fact, with the amounts proposed, Arkansas won't even be able to maintain their current infrastructure.
“Not only will the future of agriculture suffer from a lack of research funding, but without the infrastructure to bring products to market, the agricultural economy in Arkansas will suffer,” Berry added. “Despite Congress' unwillingness last year to approve the president's cuts for our nation's highways, the Bush administration has proposed a cut of nearly $300 million for 2005.”
Berry said the move follows proposed cuts in 2004 along with the approval of millions of dollars for the Fund for Ireland and improvements to the Capitol grounds in Washington, D.C. While Congress has recognized the importance of infrastructure to the economic growth of this country — especially in rural areas — the Bush administration clearly has not.”
Berry is continuing to review the four-volume budget delivered to his office to determine what projects have been adequately funded and where changes are required.