SPRINGFIELD — After two years of holding the Illinois budget hostage for political gain, Gov. Bruce Rauner now is faced with cutting an astounding $5 billion worth of state programs and services to balance the budget he presented to taxpayers last month.
“We live in the real world where we have to be realistic. We need to think about contingency plans and moving forward,” said Senator Napoleon Harris III, a Harvey Democrat and chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee. “From day one I have said we must work together to fix these issues. It’s going to take tough decisions by all to get this done.”
Gov. Rauner has proposed a budget that is unbalanced by nearly $5 billion – a figure that was reinforced this week when the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accounting released an analysis that suggests the state’s revenues are $329 million lower than the governor’s February budget estimate, pushing his budget proposal further into the red.
Yet during a series of Senate committee hearing this week, agency directors under the Rauner administration were unable or unwilling to identify cuts to personnel or programs that could enable the governor to bridge the gap. That includes representatives of the Illinois Department of Natural of Resources and the Illinois Department of Agriculture, both of whom appeared before the Senate Agriculture Committee.
“We posed a simple question to these agencies: Where in your agency’s budget can you cut to help fill this $5 billion hole in the governor’s proposed statewide budget?” Harris said. “They were stonewalling, or they’ve never given it a thought. Either way, it’s a problem for the people of Illinois who deserve answers.”
SPRINGFIELD — The state will extend additional funding to the teachers who educate the next generation of Illinois farmers thanks to a new law signed today. State Sen. Linda Holmes was chief co-sponsor of the legislation.
“Illinois farmers feed the world, and we need to ensure there are aids and incentives in place for the educators who are going to teach them how to do it,” Holmes said. “This program acknowledges that need and focuses resources to meeting it. I’m glad to see it passed into law today.”
The new law establishes an agricultural education teacher grant program to fund personal services costs for agricultural education teachers in school districts. The legislation also officially recognizes agricultural education as a course of study with staff shortages, a designation which can give those seeking to become teachers consideration for certain scholarships.
The legislation was Senate Bill 2975. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2017.
CHAMPAIGN - State Senator Scott Bennett, the new Vice-Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, is excited to announce that Illinois has a new measure to prioritize agriculture education in schools across the state.
Bennett’s legislation that will create a grant to fund up to 50 percent of the personnel costs for agriculture education teachers, Senate Bill 2975, was signed into law today.
“Agriculture is the backbone of our state’s economy,” Bennett said. “We need to do whatever we can to train our future farmers and prioritize agriculture curriculum in schools across our communities.”
Under Senate Bill 2975, if a school district creates a new agriculture education program they could receive a grant to fund 100 percent of personnel costs in their first two years and 80 percent in the third and fourth years.
“Education is essential,” Bennett said. “When students are exploring different career paths, they need to know agricultural sciences is a possibility.”
This law will also add agriculture education as an area of identified staff shortage which would make scholarship money available for those who want to go into agriculture education.
Currently, only 61 percent of agriculture jobs will be filled with qualified graduates in the coming years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Let’s work together to train our future farmers,” Bennett said. “Programs like this are essential to keeping Illinois’ agribusiness growing.”
SPRINGFIELD—Senator Bill Cunningham passed legislation out of the Illinois Senate prioritizing agriculture education in the state.
Senate Bill 2975, subject to appropriation, would create a grant to fund up to 50 percent of the personnel costs for an agriculture education teacher. If a school district is creating a new agriculture education program they could receive a grant to fund 100 percent of personnel costs in their first two years and 80 percent in the third and fourth year.
“We need to prioritize agriculture in our schools. Our economy is driven by agriculture and yet so many students throughout the state have very little opportunity to learn about it,” Cunningham said. “This legislation would allow schools like the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences to easily maintain or create agriculture education programs.”
The legislation would also add agriculture education as an area of identified staff shortage which would make scholarship money available for those who want to go into agriculture education. Only 61 percent of agriculture jobs will be filled with qualified graduates in the coming years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We need to emphasize the careers agriculture offers, and one of those is teaching the next generation about those opportunities,” Cunningham said.
The legislation now moves to the House for further consideration.
Illinois' 74,300 farms cover nearly 27 million acres -- about 75 percent of the state's total land area.
To better understand agribusiness in Illinois, State Senator Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park) is an active participant in the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Adopt-A-Legislator program.
“Agribusiness is vital to our economy,” Cullerton said. “The investments we make into agriculture not only help grow our economy but also puts food on our tables.”
The Illinois Farm Bureau Adopt-A-Legislator Program was created in 2001 to build long-term relationships between urban state legislators and farmers throughout the state. The goal of the program is to create a cultural connection between urban legislators and farm bureau members.
Students looking to get into agriculture could be without the necessary educational opportunities to spring them forward in the industry.
In the most recent budget proposal from the governor’s office, agriculture education in Illinois is set to be cut completely out of the budget. In past years, agriculture education has received nearly $2 million.
Senator Bill Cunningham has proposed legislation that puts a priority on agriculture education instead of slashing it to zero.
“We need to be prioritizing the industries that make Illinois great. Agriculture is one of those industries,” said Senator Cunningham. “We need to continue to invest in agriculture education, not just end it.”
SPRINGFIELD — High school students from across the state visited the Capitol on Tuesday to meet with legislators and advocate for agricultural education funding. State Senator Pat McGuire (D-Joliet) met with FFA students during the 2016 Illinois Agriculture Legislative Day.
“Every year, Will County agricultural leaders and I work to keep ag education funds in the state budget,” McGuire said. “We’ll have to do so again this year since the governor’s proposed budget this year wipes out funding for ag education at high schools and community colleges.
“Agriculture provides jobs and income throughout the 43rd District,” McGuire said, “from the corn and bean fields in Elwood and Channahon, to the barges hauling grain through Joliet, to the food processing plants in Romeoville and Bolingbrook.”
SPRINGFIELD – Highlighting the importance of agriculture in the state, State Senator Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) visited with farmers in Tazewell County on Monday to discuss the issues they face. “Perhaps no issue or industry unites Illinois more than agriculture and agribusiness," Cunningham said. "Whether it is grain traders in downtown Chicago or farmers in Tazewell County, or an agricultural sciences laboratory in Urbana, Illinois is an international center of agricultural production and its related businesses.”
SPRINGFIELD—Illinois farmers facing lower yields and damaged crops from this summer’s record rainfall and flooding received good news this week.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted Illinois’ request for disaster designation in 87 Illinois counties, and 14 received the added designation of contiguous disaster counties for severe losses due to rain and flooding.
Farmers who believe they may be eligible for assistance should contact their county Farm Service Agency office for financial assistance.
CHAMPAIGN- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 87 counties in Illinois, including Champaign and Vermilion counties, as primary natural disaster areas due to damages and losses by the unprecedented rain and flooding over this summer.
“Agriculture is the backbone of our economy,” said State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). “It is important for us to work together to help farmers through these difficult times. Local farmers keep the state’s economy going and growing.”
Farmers who believe they may be eligible for assistance should contact their county Farm Service Agency (FSA) office.
Here is the contact information for Champaign and Vermilion County residents:
Champaign County Farm Service Agency:
2110 West Park Ct., Suite AChampaign, IL 61821-2986(217) 352-3536 ext 2(855) 240-6623 Fax
Vermilion County Farm Service Agency:
1905A US Route 150Danville, IL 61832-5396(217) 442-8511 ext 2(855) 688-3986 Fax
Loan applications are considered on a case-by-case basis. The extent of losses, security available and applicant's repayment ability will determine eligibility. Farmers who have questions can contact their county service agency or the state FSA at (217) 241-6600.
If residents need further assistance, please contact Senator Scott Bennett’s constituent office at (217) 355-5252 or visit www.SenatorBennett.com.
“FFA members, why are we here? To practice brotherhood, honor agricultural opportunities and responsibilities, and develop those qualities of leadership which an FFA member should possess.”
Those are the words of Kade Hill, Illinois Association Future Farmers of America state president. As the FFA members travel the halls of the Capitol visiting legislators, one thing becomes clear: agriculture in Illinois makes a huge difference in people's lives, and nowhere is that more clear than with the FFA.
“Agriculture is the backbone of Illinois’s economy. It’s important that we continue to invest in ag education,” Bennett said. “I had a great time meeting with Rantoul Township and Oakwood FFA chapters. Their enthusiasm and dedication is remarkable.”
"The hard work and dedication put in by 4-H and FFA members is something that should not be overlooked," said Abby Foster, 2016 Miss Illinois County Fair Queen. "These programs and classes help each member strive for excellence, grow as individuals and set a path for their future careers."
Mr. Hill is a native of Paxton, Illlinois, and will begin his freshman year at the University of Illinois majoring in agriculture science education following his year of service as FFA state president. Ms. Foster is from Oakwood in Vermillion County and currently studying elementary education at Ball State.
Listen to Abby Foster's remarks to the Senate fron the Senate floor below.