Gov. Bill Haslam has said little about the particulars of what he expects to write into next year’s state budget plan. But he hinted Monday that he’s agreeable to permanently stashing away $21 million for Tennessee crop and livestock producer subsidies.
The Agriculture Enhancement Grants are government financial supports for an industry Haslam says funnels $78 billion a year back into the state economy and employs about 350,000 people.
“That’s a staggering factor and it’s something that we think about when we come up with our economic plans and our strategies for the future,” Haslam said in his keynote speech at the Tennessee Farm Bureau’s 90th annual statewide conference in Franklin Monday.
The grants are now paid for with one-time dollars, meaning those funds are the most likely to be cut or eliminated year to year.
Haslam is poised to cut as much as $400 million in next year’s spending plan and asked state agencies to show him how they’d cut 5 percent from their budget. The governor says he’s “hopeful” he’ll be able to avoid cutting each department by that much.
Last month, agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson outlined for the governor the agency’s proposed $87.5 million spending proposal for the coming fiscal year during a budget hearing which included options to offset about $1.9 million in spending through “reduced operating expenses” and “delayed equipment purchases.”
Haslam told reporters after his speech Monday the grants are key to the state’s agricultural environment and said he wants “to make certain that recurs because that $21 million is really important.”
He said it’s critical, in part, because “the vast majority of our business comes from existing companies and farms like yours in Tennessee and we want to recognize and reward and pay attention to that,” Haslam told the bureau.
“You make investment decisions every year and that’s why I love the reality and the truth-based business that you’re in. When people invest their own capitol, they understand what’s required.”