Washington lawmaker not on board with hiking beef checkoff

Washington lawmaker not on board with hiking beef checkoff

Published on March 11, 2017 3:37PM

Last changed on March 13, 2017 11:03AM

Don Jenkins/Capital Press

Washington state Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, says he doubts a proposal to double the Beef Commission’s budget will pass the House.

OLYMPIA — A proposal to double the Washington Beef Commission’s budget has not won support from a House member who’s been chewing on the subject for months.

The Senate already has passed a bill to increase the beef checkoff to $2.50 from $1.50. While 50 cents would still go to the national Cattlemen’s Beef Board, the added dollar would go to the state commission. The increase would boost the commission’s annual budget to about $2 million from $1 million.

The measure now goes to the House, where Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, told colleagues last year he would meet with producers to talk over the idea.

Dent said Thursday he would “hard-pressed” to support a dollar increase. “That would double the budget,” he said. “That’s a lot.”

The per head fee, paid by cattle sellers, has been the same since 2001.

The Washington Cattlemen’s Association, Cattle Feeders of Washington and the Washington State Dairy Federation support the fee increase as a vital contribution to burnishing beef’s image in an age of internet misinformation.

The Cattle Producers of Washington opposes the fee increase, arguing ranches don’t get enough benefit or enough information about how their money is being spent.

Sen. Judy Warnick, also a Moses Lake Republican, joined Dent in meeting extensively over the past year with producers.

Warnick came down in favor of the fee increase, a decision that she acknowledged was not universally embraced by cattlemen. “It is a decision I did not take lightly,” she said.

Dent said he might consider backing a phased-in increase, though he said that would depend on the Senate passing his Beef Commission bill. The measure would leave the checkoff at $1.50, while requiring the commission to present a “detailed and explanatory” budget.

“My bill has to get to the governor’s desk, or I won’t do anything,” Dent said.

The bill has passed the House and will have a hearing Thursday by the Senate agriculture committee, which Warnick chairs.

The commission’s executive director, Patti Brumbach, said she would have no problem complying with Dent’s bill.

“Anyway we can improve our communication, we welcome,” she said.

Many cattlemen have come to Olympia to testify in support of raising the beef checkoff.

“We’re very, very proud to come with a substantial coalition of other livestock groups that are in favor of this legislation,” said Washington Cattlemen’s Association President Tyler Cox, a Walla Walla rancher.

The Washington Farm Bureau also has gotten involved, sending an email alert asking its members to support Warnick’s bill.

Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said in an interview that the ranchers he’s spoken to overwhelming oppose the increase.

“I do not believe it would be supported by a majority of the people,” he said. “They could put it to a vote. I believe it would fail.”

Brumbach said a vote would be expensive and logistically difficult, and the final decision would still rest with the Legislature.

Missouri cattlemen last year voted down a proposal to raise that state’s beef checkoff by $1.

The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri Farm Bureau and two dairy groups supported hiking the fee. Some 6,565 producers voted, and 75 percent said “no.”