Election Day Nov. 7 is drawing near and with as close as the gubernatorial race is in Wisconsin, it is key that everyone exercise their right to vote and go to the polls.
Not sure who you should vote for?
Wisconsin's gubernatorial election on Nov. 7 features incumbent Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat and his Republican rival U.S. Rep. Mark Green, in a very tight race. The Wisconsin Agriculturist asked each candidate a number of ag-related questions ranging from establishing affordable health care and preserving Wisconsin farmland to what their positions are on the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) Program and renewable fuels.
Both candidates are highly qualified to be governor. Both took time to answer our questions and give you an insight into what each candidate is proposing to do if elected or re-elected governor.
On some issues, Green and Doyle are on the same page. For example, they both support use value assessment of farmland, and the extension of the MILC Program. They both would like to see all gasoline sold in the state contain a minimum of 10% ethanol. Green is even supportive of Minnesota's decision to increase their blend requirement in gasoline to 20%.
But on issues including health care and improving support for Wisconsin's dairy industry, they both have very different ideas of what the state should be doing. Green is very proud of the fact that he helped author the MILC program in Congress. Doyle is eager to implement the Working Lands Initiative to provide meaningful farmland preservation to areas of the state that are rapidly being consumed by urban sprawl.
After you've read what the candidates have to say, don't forget to go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 7 and cast your ballot for the candidate you think will do the best job leading our state and helping Wisconsin farmers prosper.
How would you promote affordable health care for Wisconsin farmers?
Doyle: I signed important Co-op Care legislation, which allows farmers and small employers to band together to negotiate directly with health plans for insurance coverage. This helps farm families significantly lower health care costs, and brings affordable health insurance to those who need it most. I am fighting to expand the state's BadgerCare program to include more hardworking farm families – saving an average farm family of four over 40% in health insurance premiums.
Green: According to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study, over 40% of dairy farms in Wisconsin do not have health insurance for their entire family. In many cases, the only thing available for them is high-premium, high-deductible self-employment plans. I am a strong supporter of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). I helped make HSAs tax free at the federal level and I strongly disagree with Jim Doyle's vetoes of HSA legislation in Wisconsin.
Additionally, I led a bi-partisan effort to secure funding for a farm "Co-Op Care program" which would allow farmers to pool together and negotiate directly with health plans for more affordable insurance coverage. As governor, I'll work to make sure Co-Op Care is successfully implemented in Wisconsin so our farmers and their families have access to affordable health care.
What is your position on saving farmland?
Doyle: I have worked diligently over the past four years to help preserve Wisconsin's farmland. I vetoed the Legislature's attempt to end the Farmland Preservation Program, and saved more than 20,000 farmers from a $23 million income tax increase. I vetoed a Republican attempt to eliminate the Smart Growth program, and restored $4 million in Smart Growth grants. And earlier this year, I signed legislation that makes changes to eminent domain laws to better protect property rights.
Green: As the husband of a farm girl whose father and brother farm to this day, I understand the importance of protecting farmland. One of my top priorities has been ensuring our family farms can be passed down from generation to generation – a key to preventing farmland from being lost. The first bill I introduced in Congress – the "Family Farm Protection Act" – exempted farmers from paying capital gains taxes upon selling their farm to a family member. When I was a member of the state Assembly I helped pass the "Use Value" assessment legislation that has held down property taxes for farm families in Wisconsin and allowed millions of acres of land to remain working farmland.
If you believe that more action to preserve farmland is needed, what are some steps the state should take?
Doyle: One critical step that my Administration is taking to help address the preservation of farmland is the Working Lands Initiative. Established by DATCP Secretary Rod Nilsestuen to develop a consensus on managing Wisconsin's valuable land assets, the initiative includes several recommendations, from updating our Farmland Preservation Program to improving agricultural planning and zoning, creating a new Working Lands Enterprise Areas program to foster the clustering of active farms and slow farmland conversion while providing incentives to promote environmental sustainability, and creating a beginning farmer program to train future farmers.
Green: The first thing we should do is put more money back in the pockets of our farm families by enacting a real property tax freeze. Property taxes have a chilling effect on farmers' bottom lines. Unfortunately, Jim Doyle vetoed the property tax freeze three times in three years, and property taxes have rocketed up by $600 million as a result.
How can the state improve support for the vital dairy industry?
Doyle: Dairy is critical to our state's economic growth. That's why I signed a dairy modernization tax credit to help farmers cover expenses of modernizing or expanding a dairy farm. Forty-two percent of Wisconsin dairies have taken advantage of it. As part of my Grow Wisconsin initiative, DATCP established the "Grow Wisconsin Dairy Team" (GWDT). Since April 2004, the GWDT has helped modernize over 500 dairy operations, administered $1.4 million in grants to 198 dairies, and assisted 30 plants in opening or expanding. In addition, the GWDT assisted nearly 70 cheese processors with business and marketing plans to bring signature cheese products to the market. The GWDT will continue to expand their work to help our dairy industry modernize and grow.
Green: One thing I wouldn't do is restore the Office of the Public Intervener in Wisconsin, as Gov. Doyle has proposed. Wisconsin's farmers already face significant hurdles in keeping their operations up and running. They shouldn't have to worry about frivolous, nuisance lawsuits on top of that. As governor, I would strengthen Wisconsin's "Right to Farm" law by working to enact legislation that prohibits the Department of Justice from bringing nuisance suits against farmers who employ good management practices.
What is the future role for agriculture in renewable energy?
Doyle: Wisconsin is in a unique position to be a leader in renewable fuels. I have supported increasing the production of renewable energy, expanding agricultural and residential energy efficiency efforts, and bringing stakeholders together to find common sense solutions.
Currently, for every dollar Wisconsin residents spend at the gas pump, seventy cents leaves our economy. But with ethanol, seventy cents stays right here in Wisconsin. Ethanol and biodiesel are not only better for the environment; they generate economic development in our rural communities.
Over the last four years we have laid out a broad vision for securing our future energy independence through achieving 25% of our energy from homegrown resources. This will result in the production of over 900 million gallons of Wisconsin grown and produced fuels and raise the prices Wisconsin producers receive for soybeans and corn.
Green: Increasing our use of homegrown fuels is the best way for the U.S. to end its addiction to foreign oil, and increase our energy security. That's why I supported an energy plan in Congress that created the nation's first-ever renewable fuels standard. For states like Wisconsin, increased ethanol usage could create a huge number of jobs and be an economic boon for our state. As governor, I will support continued efforts to expand ethanol production, and help keep Wisconsin at the forefront of this growing industry.
What are some state policies you would pursue to promote agriculture's role in renewable energy?
Doyle: I support requiring that gasoline sold in Wisconsin contain 10% ethanol. I also plan to double the availability of E85 and recently signed in an executive order outlining steps to increase ethanol and biodiesel usage in the state fleet.
This September, I outlined plans to grow bio-industry and renewable energy in Wisconsin through a $450 million public and private investment strategy – including nearly $80 million from the state – in renewable fuel sources to help the nation achieve energy independence. My proposal, which will be included in my biennial budget, is part of a broad effort to make Wisconsin the nation's leader in energy independence and create 17,000 jobs in our state. The plan includes financial incentives such as bonds, tax credits, loans, and grants for companies to invest in and develop new technologies and renewable energy.
Green: As the nation begins to look toward more renewable energy sources to fuel our growing economy, Wisconsin could position itself as a leader in the production of those fuels – particularly ethanol. Increased ethanol production in Wisconsin could be a tremendous boost to our state. Minnesota, which has required 10% ethanol in motor fuel since 1997, has had such a positive experience that they are increasing their blend requirement to 20%. Wisconsin can learn from their positive results. I have no doubt we can match Minnesota's 5,300 ethanol-generated jobs, and the $1.36 billion boost their economy receives from ethanol. As governor, I'll help ensure Wisconsin is well-positioned to stay ahead of the pack in the production of renewable fuels.
What is your position on the MILC (Milk Income Loss Contract) program?
Doyle: I strongly support the MILC program. These payments provided a necessary safety net for Wisconsin dairy producers and rural communities suffering through the milk price collapse of 2002 and the first half of 2003. Wisconsin producers have received over $413 million under this program, the highest in the nation.
While Congress previously extended the MILC program through September 2007, it only included funding for payments through Aug. 31, 2007. Representative Obey's amendment closes the MILC gap by providing $79 million to fund the program through September 2007, putting it on equal footing with other commodities. I urged congressional leaders to support Rep. Obey's efforts to close the "MILC Gap" and protect the dairy safety net in the federal agriculture spending bill for fiscal year 2007. I am currently working with Rep. Obey to ensure funding continues until the new farm bill takes effect.
Green: As one of the lead House negotiators of the 2002 federal Farm Bill, I helped author the original MILC program – which has helped put more than $414 million directly into the pockets of Wisconsin dairy farmers. This year, with the program slated for expiration, I successfully fought to extend the program once again, preserving this vital safety net for farmers across Wisconsin.
What is your position on use value assessment of farmland?
Doyle: In 2004 and 2005, I froze farmland property values, and implemented a new "use value" formula for farmland so that it could continue to be kept in agricultural use – helping to preserve that land and save farmers millions in taxes.
I reduced the property tax burden on farmers by signing into law the reduced assessment for agricultural woodlands and wetlands. The existing use value assessment has helped reduce taxes for productive farmland and help our agriculture economy remain competitive.
I believe that family farms are vital not only to our economy but to our way of life, and I will do all that I can to protect them.
Green: I support it. I believe that farmland in Wisconsin should be assessed and taxed based on what the land is worth for farming – not what it is worth for developing. The use value assessment has helped lower taxes on Wisconsin's farmers, and kept more of our state's farmland from being converted to non-agricultural uses.
As many farmers will recall, then-Attorney General Jim Doyle actually refused to represent the state when Gov. Tommy Thompson tried to speed-up the implementation of use-value assessment. I'll never miss a chance to stand up for Wisconsin's farmers.
What are steps you have taken as an elected official to promote the interests of agriculture in Wisconsin?
Doyle: Agriculture is part of who we are in Wisconsin, and as governor, I have been committed to promoting agriculture and helping our hardworking farm families – from health care to education to property tax relief.
As governor, I worked to reduce the cost of health care for farm families through legislation establishing health care co-ops and expansion of my BadgerCare Plus initiative. I recognized the challenges facing rural schools and increased categorical aids like school transportation to ensure more dollars are devoted to the classroom. And I enacted the tightest limits on property taxes in state history.
I have also worked throughout my four years as governor to promote initiatives, such as the livestock siting bill, the working lands initiative, regulatory certainty efforts, and others to help grow and sustain Wisconsin's vibrant agricultural economy.
Green: One of my highest priorities throughout my elected career has been supporting Wisconsin's agricultural industry, and over the years I've been proud to help score some significant victories for our farmers.
The MILC program has been a vital safety net for Wisconsin's dairy producers when the price of milk has fallen to uncharacteristically low levels. My efforts to create, and later extend, the MILC program have helped provide a desperately-needed boost to farmers all across our state when times have gotten tough.
I've also helped level the playing field for Wisconsin farmers by breaking up the Northeast Dairy Compact – an arcane milk pricing program that took money straight from the pockets of our dairy producers and handed it over to farmers in New England.
To support our state's cranberry growers, I've supported legislation to help the industry rebound from historically low prices, and provided emergency financial assistance so they can continue to prosper.
As an elected official, what are some steps you have taken to promote the economic strength of Wisconsin agriculture?
Doyle: I have worked hard to strengthen the state's agricultural economy by improving the Agricultural Producers Security Program, which provides security financing to protect farmers in the event of a major default, at no risk to taxpayers. I increased the maximum loan the CROP program can provide to $100,000, which allows the program to make funding available to more farmers for essential supplies like feed, seed, and fertilizer. I signed landmark livestock siting legislation, and worked hard to ensure a balance between dairy farmers, environmentalists, and local governments through ACT 51.
Our efforts have paid off. Wisconsin agricultural exports increased by 16% in 2005, moving up in national ranking to 11th place from 18th.
Green: In Congress I was one of the authors of the MILC program – which is the first dairy price support program that treats Wisconsin farmers fairly. I also helped lead a successful coalition to prevent the reauthorization of the Northeast Dairy Compact – a dairy cartel that artificially increased the income of the farmers in six New England states at the expense of the Upper Midwest.
I've also been a critic of the unfair disparities in the antiquated Milk Marketing Order system, which allow farmers to be paid more for their fluid milk the further they live from Eau Claire. To help level the playing field for Wisconsin farmers, I authored federal legislation to adjust the compensation formula.
In addition, when the European Union sought enhanced geographic indicator protections during World Trade negotiations, I pressed U.S. Trade Representative Zoellick to oppose the efforts. If successful, the EU would have prohibited U.S. manufacturers from using commonly accepted names for cheese such as "Parmesan," "Mozzarella" and "Feta."
To protect Wisconsin's strong ginseng industry, I worked hand-in-hand with the Wisconsin Ginseng Board to prevent the fraudulent use of the ginseng label by competitors – a practice that was crippling the industry in our state.
I've also helped provide emergency assistance to Wisconsin's cranberry industry to help it rebound from historically low prices.