COLUMBUS -- The head of the Ohio Department of Agriculture voiced concern Thursday about amendments to the biennial state budget that he said would leave his agency strapped to cover the costs of needed services.
In particular, Director David Daniels told an Ohio Senate finance subcommittee that divisions that inspect meat processing facilities and oversee animal health programming would face a combined shortfall of more than $1.2 million, absent changes to the House-passed version of the two-year spending plan.
The department's cooperative meat inspection program would see a reduction of $950,000 in state and federal funding under the legislation as currently written, he said.
"Accordingly, meat processing facilities throughout the state may be forced to close days on which inspections can't be offered -- a requirement of federal law," Daniels said in his submitted testimony.
Animal health operations, meanwhile, are looking at a $300,000 deficit, a shortfall that would affect inspections, surveys and testing of animal disease incidents, including highly pathogenic avian influenza, Daniels said.
"These services are critical to preventing widespread outbreaks, which are costly to contain, clean up and could ultimately cost Ohioans to lose their jobs," he said in his testimony.
Daniels was one of the department heads or surrogates who testified Thursday on the biennial operating budget.
Ohio Senate panels are hearing from state officials and other interested parties who support or oppose provisions already included in the legislation or who are pushing for additional law and policy changes.
The Senate is expected to amend the bill over the next few weeks, with an early June floor vote. The budget needs to be passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor in advance of the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
During his testimony Thursday, Daniels acknowledged proposed funding increases to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, due mostly to the move of the state's soil and water conservation division to that agency from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and monies allocated to cover new pet store oversight OK'd by lawmakers late last year.
But Daniels said cuts in other funding areas made by the Ohio House would prevent planned computer systems upgrades and hamper other mandated regulatory services the agency provides.
He also said language added by the House that would change the inspections process for inflatable and aquatic amusement rides would create confusion and be difficult to enforce.
And he questioned an amendment requiring county auditors to affix stickers to gas and diesel pumps disclosing tax rates paid by consumers.
The state agriculture department would be responsible for designing, producing and distributing the stickers each time tax rates change.
"The provision does not include funding for our responsibilities nor for the county auditors that are required to put those on almost 10,000 pumps here in the state of Ohio," Daniels said. "The potential costs of that could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.