By Adam Andrzejewski
State government agencies occupied two of the top six highest all-time recipients of federal farm subsidies (2008-2011). It doesn’t end there. Across America, municipal airports, local school districts, universities and affiliated foundations, cities and villages have burrowed into federal "farm aid."
Over the next few months, Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack will craft a new definition of "active farmer." His definition of what a farmer is could potentially save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars by kicking the "gentleman farmers" and city slickers off farm aid. I wrote about this last week at Forbes, Kicking City Slickers off Federal Farm Subsidies
As the farm subsidy largess of corporations, investors, wealthy heirs, millionaires, scions of industry, lobbyists, and members of Congress come under scrutiny, Vilsack should also kick Uncle Sam’s smaller cousins – state and local governments – off the aid train.
The historic purpose of the farm bill was to "ensure a stable food supply" and "to preserve the family farm." But, of course, federal farm aid has become a gravy train serving urban centers, rock stars and even National of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Not surprisingly state and local governments want their fair share of this stable subsidy supply.
For example, state governments occupied two of the top six highest farm subsidy recipients between 2008-2011 according to our report, Farm Subsidies and the Big Dogs:
- $8.541 million flowed to the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation, which was more than all private sector farms. This was number one of our list of all farm subsidy recipients.
- $3.734 million flowed to the Washington Department of Natural Resources and was sixth on the Top 20 recipients list.
Since the Department of Natural Resources is an entity of Montana state government, the "subsidy" is, in reality, just a government transfer payment to Uncle Sam’s farming cousin – another government entity.
As a state, Texas is a farm subsidy leader. Thirteen cities in Texas combined to receive six figures in farm subsidies: Abernathy, Denver City, Levelland, Slaton, Stamford, Sweetwater, Wellington, Floydata, Roscoe, Silverton, Plainview, Quitaque, and Sundown. Iowa received the second most farm subsidy of all fifty states, and eight cities in Iowa combined to receive $51,334: Spencer, Pocahontas, Laurens, Knoxville, Indianola, Greenfield, Decorah, and Batavia.
Then, there are the universities. Texas Tech University received $485,992 in farm subsidy – mostly related to cotton, sorghum, peanut, and wheat subsidies. Sam Houston State University received a $2,732 subsidy related to livestock. The University of Illinois in Champaign – Urbana received $300,000 in farm subsidies during the years 2008-11 and millions over the life of the programs. The supporting – but private entity – the University of Illinois Foundation picked up additional $40,000 during this time period.
So, in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars received by universities in federal payments – federal student aid; federal contracts, direct payments and grants; and all other types of federal transfer including research payments – state universities are also receiving millions in farm subsidies.
Uncle Sam’s determination to provide a stable subsidy supply is due in large part to the desire of politicians to pander to parochial interests. And, of course, state and local governments would say they’re trying to help worthy programs. But if those projects are worthy, why fund it through a Washington, D.C. farm subsidy? Why not properly tax the funds locally – for the local expenditure? The answer is politicians in Washington, D.C. want to skim the political capital that comes from doling out largesse.
Transparency matters because you can’t cut what you can’t see. With our $18 trillion national debt we need to find savings wherever we can. The former U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) once remarked, "When I feel the heat, I see the light!"
Our hope is that citizens, watchdogs, and journalists continue to use this data to ask questions and demand reform. As Vilsack writes the new definitions of "farming," we can only hope that Uncle Sam’s smaller cousins are also written out of the "farm aid" and subsidy game.