SENATOR MURKOWSKI OPPOSES FARM BILL, SAYS MEASURE PROVIDES TOO MUCH AID FOR CORN-BASED ETHANOL
SENATOR ALSO DISAPPOINTED BY LOSS OF EXXON VALDEZ TAX PROVISION
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Lisa Murkowski today voted against final passage of a five-year $307 billion farm bill reauthorization saying the measure spent too much in tax and financial assistance for corn-based ethanol, not enough on cellulosic biofuel research, and spent too much money on priorities that differed markedly with her own.
“There are a lot of good things in the bill, including some that I proposed or supported. But on balance I agreed with the Administration that the bill is somewhat bloated. While I support the $10 billion increase in nutrition programs, I did not support parts of the other nearly $3.8 billion increase in spending,” said Murkowski of her vote on final passage.
Noting she recently sent a letter asking that waiver provisions be invoked to slow an increase in the production of corn-based ethanol biofuels because of the recent impacts of biofuel production on food prices, she said she was concerned about providing a new $320 million in mandatory spending for biofuel refineries, including those making corn-based ethanol. She said given the current rising crop prices, she also questioned the need for a new $45 a ton subsidy to farmers to produce biomass.
She also expressed great disappointment in the farm bill conference dropping a provision to provide tax benefits to Alaska fishermen should they win a court judgment next month against Exxon Mobil in the civil lawsuit over the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
“All farmers get to income average to prevent huge tax liabilities in boom years. Alaska’s farmers of the sea should not be treated differently and should not lose large chunks of their pending settlements that they have waited more than 13 years to gain, simply because conferees decided the tax change was too expensive in a bill that already,” said Murkowski, who expressed frustration with the decision to drop the Senate-passed provision weeks before a likely U.S. Supreme Court decision that may end the 19-year legal battle following the spill. She noted the Alaska fisheries provision would have added less than one hundredth of a percent to the total cost of the bill over 10 years.
Murkowski also expressed concern that dairy farmers in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico will now be taxed on the amount of milk that they produce for commercial use. Ultimately, this tax will likely be passed on to consumers in the form of higher milk prices. She worked to keep Alaska’s dairy farmers from being forced to pay these taxes given the current challenges facing the Alaska dairy industry.
She also noted that the final bill dropped a proposal that she had co-sponsored to provide a 30 percent investment tax credit, capped at $4,000, to help rural residents install wind turbines to produce their own electricity. While the final bill did expand the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) that provides grants for planning for all types of renewable energy projects, the greater tax assistance was dropped from the bill.
She did express satisfaction that the conference allowed farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to access grants for construction of small hydroelectric projects. The conference also kept a provision she authored to allow Illisagvik College in Barrow to obtain “land grant” college status that may help the college obtain USDA grants.
Murkowski also welcomed the reauthorization of USDA funding for the State of Alaska’s Village Safe Water program, and praised fellow Senator Ted Stevens for succeeding in gaining new assistance for the Alaska Denali Commission to provide solid waste disposal assistance and for co-sponsoring the creation of a new geographically disadvantaged farmer and rancher program that covers Alaska. Murkowski also praised Stevens for his work on several fishery inspection provisions contained in the farm bill.
The bill that passed the House Wednesday, 318-106 and the Senate today, 81-15, both veto-proof margins, now heads to the President for his review.