SPRINGFIELD – The chairman of the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research on Friday called the governor's budget proposal "woe-fully inadequate."
"Every Midwestern state, with the exception of Missouri, makes a greater investment in their food and agricultural industries than does Illinois; some are significantly greater," said Chairman Alan Puzey. "Illinois' ability to foster advancements is in dire jeopardy with the appropriation that is proposed next year."
Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed that C-FAR receive $3.5 million in the year beginning July 1, the same amount it received this year. The Champaign-based council, which provides money for projects at the University of Illinois and other state schools, had requested $10 million.
State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, said he was relieved to see C-FAR in the budget at all and considered the governor's proposal a victory.
"I share their concern, but I've got to tell you I'm so happy he didn't cut it," Black said. "I'm amazed, quite frankly, that it wasn't cut."
In the 2000, 2001 and 2002 budget years, C-FAR received $15 million a year in state funding. The next year it dropped to $6.9 million and the year after that it dipped below $5 million. Blagojevich's proposed budget for the year ending July 1, 2005 contained not a penny for C-FAR, but lawmakers later restored the program at $3.5 million, where it has stayed since.
Jack Erisman, C-FAR's legislative chair, thinks it's time for a change.
"During the past few years, we understood and accepted the budget difficulties facing our state," he said in a written release. "We survived with decreased appropriations by targeting the limited funding to the highest priority ongoing research. Today, with our state's economy significantly more robust, it is time to correct the huge imbalance we have in supporting our state's number one industry."
Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Chris Herbert agreed that agriculture research is important, but said there are only so many ways to stretch a dollar.
"The governor has a lot of tough decisions to make," Herbert said. "If money wasn't an issue, would we like to see C-FAR get more money? Absolutely, but again, the governor's been adamant about watching spending."
On average, every state dollar invested in C-FAR yields an additional $4 in outside research money, an argument council officials hope will help convince state lawmakers to boost its appropriation.
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said she would keep that in mind as budget negotiations progress this spring.
"I understand the importance of C-FAR and the research that it does for nutrition, for safety of food and fostering new technologies that can create new jobs," she said. "We need to look at our priorities and make sure that we are investing the state's resources in the right places.
"I want to look at (C-FAR) in the context of the whole budget negotiations, but it is one of the areas that I will be keeping in mind to see if we are doing the appropriate investment," she said.
Black said he doubted that C-FAR would get more state money this year, and worried that complaining about it could end up making things worse.
"If we make too big a fuss about it, when this bill comes up for a final vote $1 million of this could disappear," he said. "Who knows? Maybe a year from now we can make the case with a new governor."