cuts could impact food safety
of Article: http://www.wafb.com/Global/story.asp?S=10713384&nav=menu57_2
Posted: July 12, 2009
By Caroline Moses
BATON ROUGE, LA
(WAFB) - The way your food is checked and regulated could soon be
threatened in Louisiana because the agency in charge of food safety is
facing millions of dollars in budget cuts.
The Louisiana Department
of Agriculture is already in major debt, made serious lay-offs, and
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain says it will likely get worse
before it gets better. "We're in charge of food safety and we're
going to do everything in our power to make sure we complete our
mission," said Strain.
says the people who regulate grain, meat, and pesticides are invaluable
and critical to the state's safety, but like everyone else in the Ag
Department, their jobs are now getting re-evaluated. "There are no
more soft cuts here, only hard cuts. We have to make hard decisions,
and we have to look at it program by program." Already, because of
last year's budget cuts, Strain laid off 115 people. This year
his department must cut another $12 million. "Every additional
person now is critical to the mission."
initially recommended the Department of Ag cut $20 million. Strain
says he basically begged his former colleagues in the legislature to
lower that number down to $12 million. "By working with them and
explaining the importance of the programs, we have been successful in
getting some dollars back in," said Strain. Even with some
restored funding, Strain says it will be difficult to make more cuts,
especially when the department is still paying $14 million a year
toward debts. Most of the debt stems from projects bonded out
under former Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom.
Strain plans to try
to re-finance the debt. He says that could shrink this next round of
budget cuts down from $12 million to about $7 million. "I must
reduce my budget by a minimum of $7 million starting from where we're
at to where we need to be in a year," he said. Strain is already
offering early retirement options to an additional 160 employees and he
plans to stop filling jobs as people leave. He says those changes
should prevent further department lay-offs for now, but next year, he
warns, they'll be new threats and new fights.
Strain is still
working with department heads to finalize plans for this year's cuts.
He says they'll start making most of the changes by August
15th. In the meantime, he plans to travel to Washington, D.C. to
lobby for any additional available funding.