The House Appropriations Committee began hearings on the budget proposals for each of the state’s departments Monday. Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain is asking for a bit more money this next year, and Representative Henry Burns (R-Haughton) quizzed him about the reasons.
“So it’s your prediction that food will be important even into the future?” Burns asked, generating chuckles from the audience and committee members.
“Remember this--and you only have to remember one statistic--four out of four people eat,” Strain responded.
Appropriations Committee chairman Jim Fannin inquired more seriously about the three-to-four million dollars Strain is requesting.
“Without the increase, with the budget that you have today, tell me what services will be curtailed the most,” Fannin asked.
“One, we will not have acquisitions for equipment,” Strain replied. “And two, we will probably have to downsize again.”
Commissioner Strain has seen his department’s budget cut 33-percent over the past six years, from $114-million in 2008 down to $75-million currently. He used his department’s Office of Forestry, and its responsibility for fighting wildfires, as an example of the problem.
“On average, we fight more than 2000 fires per year, and we have done everything that we can to continue to fight fires with the people that we have,” Strain told the committee.
He says Louisiana forestry is a $22-billion industry, and they’re protecting it with a skeleton force. Because of that, they’re only one wildfire and one equipment breakdown from seeing a lot of money go up in smoke.
“This is highly specialized equipment,” Strain said. “And you know, there’s going to come a day of reckoning when we have to start replacing this equipment.”
The current budget had no money allocated for equipment replacement, and the proposed budget for next year only contains $93,000, earmarked for computer and software upgrades.