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Opinion: Initiative petition reform, broadband top rural priorities

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At the Missouri Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in early December, rural Missourians voiced strong support for initiative petition reform, broadband expansion and making renewable energy project taxation more equitable.

More than 550 delegates from every corner of the state debated these and many other policies before adopting the 2019 Missouri Farm Bureau Policy Book. This grassroots policy development process has been a cornerstone of the bureau since its founding.

Ballot initiatives
Missouri has experienced a massive increase in ballot initiatives in recent years. Out-of-state interests lead and bankroll many of these efforts. Drafters often write ballot language to appeal to a voter on first glance, but the true impacts are less obvious without significant investigation.

The new Missouri Farm Bureau policy would force initiative petitions for constitutional amendments to receive broad support from all parts of the state. Proponents would have to collect as many signatures in each congressional district equal to at least 8 percent of the most recent gubernatorial vote in that district. This would help guard against any single region or group overriding others’ wishes.

Missourians must ensure any changes to our state’s constitution are broadly agreed upon. They should not be pushed through by small but well-funded interest groups.

Broadband speeds
New policy on broadband internet would set a floor of acceptable speeds for federally funded projects. This policy would mandate speeds of no less than 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. It also would make providers verify that they can and do deliver the speeds they promised in federal grant applications.

Some federal broadband grant recipients have promised speeds that were not delivered. This wastes taxpayer resources and sets back our rural communities. They already have waited long enough for true broadband service to arrive.

Renewable energy
Taxation of wind and solar projects also was addressed. Currently, state law requires that real estate taxes for most public utility infrastructure be spread across the entire state, rather than remaining in the county where the assets lie.

This current policy destroys much of the incentive for rural areas to allow wind and solar developments. Local counties have to bear the burden of any road damage, injury to wildlife and diminution in aesthetic beauty. They must provide police and fire protection and community services to utility employees. Increased property taxes should offset these costs to the county. Local residents also deserve compensation for the use of their natural resources.

When the legislative session begins in a few short weeks, these will be among the foremost issues on the Missouri Farm Bureau’s list of priorities. With the help of the legislature and governor, we can make progress on these issues and improve the lives of all Missourians.

Eric Bohl is director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau in Columbia. He can be reached at publicaffairs@mofb.com.

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