March 27, 2015

Conservation is Conservative

ACA: Unintended Consequences

I live in St. Joseph County, Michigan. That’s the third county east of Lake Michigan, on the Indiana border. Residents describe it as “40 minutes east of Notre Dame”. The county has 60,000 residents, and our claim to fame is that we have more irrigated cropland than any other county east of the Mississippi.

We have more navigable waterways than any other county in the Great Lake State, and our sandy soil is the perfect place to grow seed corn—the hybrid kernels raised by Monsanto, Pioneer, and others to sell to the nation’s farmers. Easy-to-access water and soil that drains well are key to growing seed corn. This specialty crop pays extremely well, too.

Irrigated farmland is now selling north of $12,000 per acre, and property taxes from all that ag land primes the pump of our county government. Common sense dictates good stewardship of our water and soil. Yet, last month, the county commission proposed eliminating the entire budget for our Soil and Conservation District.

Why did our elected leaders even consider cutting a relatively small amount? It was because they had to piece together savings to cover an unexpected bill–$150,000 in new costs attributed to the Affordable Care Act. After our farmers revolted, the county commission decided to dip into its fund balance to keep the Soil and Conservation District going for another year. But that is a stop gap measure.

We are a rural county with limited resources and a finite fund balance. If health care costs continue to go through the roof, other services are going to be cut. Too often conservation and sustainable practices are the first to hit the trash bin because those expenditures are long term investments, often without an immediate return. Obviously, that compounds costs in the future.

ACA was supposed to lower costs by spreading them across a broader segment of the population. Not only is that incorrect, but we will soon see out-of-proportion opportunity costs as local and state governments divert budgeted funds away from other services, like conservation, to cover the fees and increased premiums for mandated coverage.

Public policy is rife with unintended consequences. A measure of humility and honesty is how quickly our elected leaders will act to prevent those consequences. I, for one, don’t want conservation to be one of those consequences.

Rob Sisson
Sturgis, MI

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  1. You aren’t thinking like a progressive. ACA will eventually be used to eliminate life-prolonging, specialized care for the sick, elderly and unborn when the cost of keeping them alive exceeds their utility to society. Without these “unneccessary” biological units sucking up resources from Gaia, Mother Earth will be conserved.

  2. Rob Sisson says:

    Just learned that Kent County, MI’s proposed 2014 budget eliminates funding for its successful farmland preservation program. As advocates for good stewardship and conservation, we also must be advocates in the budgeting process of our local governments. No doubt increasing costs for employee and retiree health insurance is part of the budget deliberation process in Kent County.

    Grand Rapids, MI is located in Kent County, and is Michigan’s second largest city, and the county has grown exponentially over the last 20 years. Farmland preservation is important to preserve the character of the area, for soil and water conservation, and for sustainable planning. In the long run, by strategically preserving some farm land, local governments will save significantly on infrastructure and services. That’s a conservative ideal.

    This may mean that environmentalists and conservationists must mire themselves in budgetary discussions on issues not, on the surface, directly germane to our policy areas. As conservatives, it is an absolute “must.”

  3. Rob Sisson says:

    ConservAmerica has had a long term policy of not commenting on issues not germane to its mission. One long-time member sent an email to me this morning asking, “What the heck are you doing talking about ACA?”

    I hope the original entry and follow up comment make the connection clear. If it hasn’t, let me get personal.

    My wife and I purchase our health insurance through her employer (ConservAmerica, as a non-profit, does not provide any employee benefits). Our out-of-pocket premium increases under ACA for the coming year approaches $3,000. Besides the fact that we are trying to save for our twin 16 year old sons’ college education and our own retirement, what does that mean?

    Well, it means I will cut back or eliminate my own contributions to ConservAmerica, Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Michigan Environmental Council, National Wildlife Federation, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Catholic Climate Coalition, High Country News, and Michigan United Conservation Clubs. Multiply this by tens of millions of Americans, and one can see very quickly that ACA is going to impact non-profits across the country by reducing discretionary income.

    Make sense?

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