Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

September 12, 2013

Rural issues affect our local communities, entire state

Sen. Jean Leising
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

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As your state senator, it is my duty to remind those in our state’s capital that many Hoosiers do not reside in larger cities, but rather, Indiana is comprised of quiet, rural communities. We must remember how legislation—both nationally and statewide—affects our smallest cities and towns. Although we are considered a rural state, those who call Indiana “home” value our diverse business climate, including advanced manufacturing, life sciences and yes, agriculture. 

At a recent meeting of the Indiana General Assembly’s Rural Caucus, of which I am co-chair, I had an opportunity to tour the new Glass Barn at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The exhibition, titled the “Indiana Farming Experience,” gives a vivid account of the relationship between farmers and their land and how technology serves as a bridge between the two. This experience reminded me that agriculture is an ever-changing, growing industry. 

After the tour, legislators heard an update from agriculture leaders on both the crop and livestock industries, as well as discuss rural-specific issues, such as transportation funding, the federal “farm bill” and Indiana’s rural first responders. 

These are some facts that were shared:

Rural Indiana roads will receive a sizable funding boost.

Indiana is widely known as “the Crossroads of America.” To protect this legacy and maintain our infrastructure, we must fund Indiana’s roads. This year, the Indiana General Assembly modified our transportation funding formula for the first time in more than 30 years. 

Not only did the legislature remove the state police, license branches and tax administrators from the previous road funding formula, but we also designated all motor fuel taxes and 1 percent of Indiana sales tax to be used for state and local roads. We made our small communities a priority by allocating $210 million statewide for local road funding, which is an increase of more than 25 percent.

The U.S. “Farm Bill” minimally supports farmers.

Because of its name, most people think the “Farm Bill” is only an agricultural aid package. While it does contain help for farmers, it actually funds everything from conservation to rural development, with most of the money allocated for federally-subsidized nutrition programs. In fact, approximately 78 percent of Farm Bill spending will support food assistance programs, like Indiana’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “food stamps.” 

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the “Farm Bill” and stripped out funding for nutritional assistance programs. However, Congress has adjourned for its August recess and will have to take up the controversial legislation upon returning in mid-September. The “Farm Bill” was originally designed to incentivize and protect family enterprises, with their exceptional risks and tight margins. Unfortunately, the bill as we know it is less about family farms and more about providing food assistance through SNAP, free and reduced lunch programs and the Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) program.

Rural first responders desperately need additional assistance.

Did you know Indiana is home to more than 800 volunteer fire departments and 16,000+ volunteer firefighters? Our first responders are vitally important to our rural communities, yet funding issues plague their ability to provide top-notch service to Hoosiers. Some rural fire departments have not updated their equipment—including fire trucks—since the 1970’s, due to budget constraints and equipment replacement costs. Although Indiana requires township trustees to provide adequate fire services to local citizens, tight budgets force volunteer fire departments to hold fundraisers, such as fish fry events and festivals. If so many citizens rely on local volunteer firefighters, we need to find solutions to provide adequate funding levels. 

I encourage you to get involved in issues affecting our rural community. An upcoming event, the Indiana Rural Summit: Partnering for Economic Health and Community Success will be held Oct. 3-4 at the Sheraton Indianapolis at Keystone Crossing. For more details about the summit, visit  http://www.in.gov/ocra/ruralsummit.htm. 

As always, you may contact Sen. Jean Leising directly via email at s42@iga.in.gov or call 1-800-382-9467.