Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary by Sen. Tom Daschle Last week, President Bush outlined his priorities for the upcoming year in his budget proposal. Sadly, the proposed budget leaves many of the challenges facing South Dakotans unanswered.

Particularly hard-hit by the President's budget are the family farmers, ranchers and rural communities that are the backbone of South Dakota's economy. While the budget includes significant tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, the President's cuts to agricultural and rural development programs only ensure additional burdens for South Dakotans.

After years of unprecedented natural disasters, including three straight years of devastating drought, the President has called for over an 8 percent cut from the overall agricultural budget. These cuts will undermine farmers and rural economies at a pivotal moment as they are trying to emerge from the effects of the drought.

The diminished funding will have a particular impact on conservation programs. All told, funding for technical assistance for conservation efforts will decrease by nearly $140 million, making it more difficult to provide farmers and ranchers with the support they need to implement plans to conserve land in South Dakota and across the country.

This budget also undermines South Dakota's efforts to create the kind of infrastructure investment and economic development that would ensure long-term prosperity. The budget calls for a $3.9 billion cut in rural development services, including significant funding decreases for efforts to improve infrastructure and expand economic opportunities in rural America. Even basic programs to provide water and sewer service to rural communities will suffer. While hundreds of thousands of people in the United States continue to have inadequate or no water and sewer infrastructure, the President's budget request cuts almost $200 million in grants to smaller cities and towns in rural America that need assistance to provide rural residents with safe water and sewer service.

The Grassland Reserve Program in particular will suffer under the President's budget. Last year alone, more than 1,000 South Dakotans applied to participate in the Grassland Reserve Program, which encourages producers to maintain and conserve grassland. In spite of the fact that the current budget could not support the South Dakotans who applied, the President has proposed a $19 million cut to a program that was already underfunded.

In the end, budgets aren't about numbers: they're about choices and priorities. For rural Americans in particular, this budget tells a troubling story about the Administration's priorities. The White House has chosen to provide huge windfalls for millionaires and giant corporations, and huge cutbacks for the programs that matter to South Dakota and rural America. With this budget, the White House has shown that its priorities are not South Dakota's priorities.

We can do better, and we must. In the coming months, I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to ensure that farmers and rural communities receive the support they need and deserve. We must offer real answers to the challenges that Americans face today with a budget that reflects Americans' priorities, and Americans' best hopes for our future.

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