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Essential state services dont include reporting on pesticide use

The Pesticide Use Reporting System currently is unfunded for 2003-05 for several reasons, including the unwillingness of the antipesticide coalition called the Oregon Pesticide Education Network to accept compromise.

Oregon is facing a major revenue shortfall, currently a billion dollars off from proposed budgets. Severe cuts are being made to essential services such as the state police, education, elderly care, corrections and research. All programs are repeatedly scrutinized, with few, if any, getting through the rancorous committee budget process unscathed.

Programs most likely to be cut include those that are: 1) currently funded with general fund (tax) dollars; 2) new or not fully implemented; 3) nonessential in meeting the state's basic needs. The Pesticide Use Reporting System fits all three targets.

The reporting system definitely is not essential. The program was intended to be a basic monitoring tool used by the state to ensure that the use of pesticides does not pose an unreasonable risk of adverse impacts. It was never designed to mitigate or regulate problems.

By statute, funding for the system's $1.5 million price tag is shared. One-half is paid annually by pesticide registrants. The matching half is general fund (tax) dollars. This ensures that the reporting system will be prioritized along with numerous other elective programs. It also provides the 'checks and balances' needed to prevent runaway bureaucratic programs, requiring ever-increasing fees imposed on individuals and businesses.

The reporting system also is a new program and not yet functional. Passed in 1999, it was scheduled to be operational by January 2002. Funds to develop the system were placed in the Emergency Board for interim disbursement as warranted. Progress stopped, however, when the Oregon Pesticide Education Network attempted to muscle the outcome of the public rule-making process.

In 2001, nine public hearings were held across Oregon to receive comment on the implementation of rules. Based on recommendations of the hearings officer, staff and the state Board of Agriculture, the proposed final rules stated that 'location' of pesticide use would be reported by watershed.

Unwilling to accept this outcome, the antipesticide coalition convinced then-Gov. John Kitzhaber to exercise his authority over the agriculture department, mandating that reporting be done at the section level.

Farmers loudly voiced objections to legislators, including those on the Emergency Board in control of funding for the reporting system. Reporting at the section level places unnecessary burdens and costs on farmers, and it allows individual operations to be identified, creating unwarranted security and safety risks.

When discussions between legislators and the governor failed to find a compromise, funding to complete the reporting system was withheld. Had the antipesticide coalition not derailed the rule-making process, the reporting system would have been funded, finished and operational in 2002.

Instead, the 2003 legislative session began with the reporting system shut down. In spite of budget shortfalls, cutting essentials such as the state police and elderly care, some still argued that the reporting system was a priority. Discussions between Gov. Ted

Kulongoski's staff and users found a workable middle ground: report 'location' by hydrologic unit, the same designation used by all state agencies dealing with water.

However, when the governor offered this proposal, the antipesticide coalition refused, apparently wanting all or nothing.

Voters repeatedly reject extreme concepts at the ballot box, and legislators must do the same while they're in session. Unless Oregonians are willing to pay significantly higher taxes, we cannot afford programs designed to meet the desires of only a few.

Legislators are doing what every household must do when faced with limited income: pay for essentials, then moderate and prioritize activities to fit the dollars that are left.

Terry L. Witt is executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter. He lives in Salem.