News

 June 12, 2018

Environmental bond, APR legislation under consideration

 

The governor has introduced, and the legislature is considering, the quadrennial environmental bond bill. The 2018 version of this spending authorization (H.4599, An Act promoting climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection, and investment in recreational assets and opportunity) proposes funding for many programs supported by Plan recommendations. The Collaborative has been working with allies to ensure that this bill provides appropriate resources for programs critical to the local food system. This includes advocating for:

  • $20 million for the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program in a dedicated account;
  • $26.5 million for the Farm Viability Enhancement Program and other programs that support energy conservation, urban agriculture, and food safety; and
  • $20 million to support the UMass Center for Urban Sustainability in Waltham.

Also critical is that the State carry forward unexpended funds from the 2014 bond bill, so that those resources can still be invested in their respective programs. The Collaborative is particularly concerned with the fact that much of this authorization is never spent, so that the impression is given that the state is making significant capital investments in agriculture, but the spending never actually happens.

Some sections of the bill and proposed amendments are not funding-related, but still address issues cited in the Plan, such as:

  • alleviating the burden of the estate tax on farm sustainability;
  • establishing of a task force to develop a statewide farmland action plan; and
  • establishing of a revolving fund for transfers of development rights (TDRs).

To see the Collaborative’s full testimony on this bill, click here.

At the same time, the Baker administration has released its capital spending plan for fiscal year 2019, based on funds authorized by the 2014 bond bill. That plan includes:

  • $10.2 million for all land protection programs under the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which includes the APR program;
  • $350,000 for the Agricultural Environmental Enhancement Program;
  • $950,000 for the Farm Viability Enhancement Program;
  • $200,000 for the Agricultural Food Safety Improvement Program;
  • $500,000 for grants to support urban agriculture;
  • $1 million for the Massachusetts Food Trust;
  • $1 million for the Massachusetts Food Venture Program; and
  • $1 million for Agricultural Climate Resilience Enhancement.

The full spending plan is available here.

Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program

As reported in our last newsletter, concerns about how land protected through the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program may be transferred, and to whom, led to the introduction this session of legislation (S.2175) which would address these concerns, but also make a significant change to the definition of an APR. This raised a new set of concerns among some APR Program advocates, and the Collaborative joined them in several meetings with legislators to discuss ways that APR legislation might best address program challenges and improve transparency and administration, which maintaining the program's commitment to farmland affordability.

A much-modified version of the bill was included in the Senate's recently-passed budget. As House and Senate conferees meet to reconcile the differences between their respective budgets, the Collaborative continues to work with allied organizations to advocate for language that will improve transparency and communications between the Department of Agricultural Resources and buyers and sellers of APR properties, and provide for greater stakeholder input into APR Program regulations and policies.

⟨ Newer:
2018 Budget Signed: Good news for HIP, other food system priorities

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Protecting the tools for land protection