Capitol to Capitol
An Information Service of NCSL's Standing Committees

Volume 19   Issue 22- July 6, 2012 


MIXED MESSAGES IN FARM BILL

The Senate passage of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240), commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill,” yielded several successes for states during the floor amendment process. Despite the $4.5 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from modifying the “heat and eat” program, the Senate rejected three amendments, which NCSL opposed in a letter sent to Congress on June 19. The proposed amendments would have limited state flexibility in administration of the SNAP program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). The House Agriculture Committee is expected to mark up its version of the farm bill on July 11, which features a $16.5 billion cut in SNAP. It restricts categorical eligibility, eliminates the state bonus fund for high performance, and includes the same $4.5 billion cut “heat and eat” as in S. 3240. The current authorization expires at the end of September. Action: state legislators should urge House Agriculture Committee members to restore state flexibility, categorical eligibility and the state bonus fund. A summary of the nutritional components of the farm bill, along with a link to NCSL’s letter, is available here: http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/human-services/summary-of-senate-farm-bill-2012.aspx. You can also listen to NCSL’s webinar on the farm bill here: http://www.ncsl.org/state-federal-committees/scagee/e-learning-webinar-series.aspx. NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Emily Wengrovius (nutrition); Ben Husch, Marcus Peterson (farm bill generally)


DIGITAL GOODS ON DISPLAY

NCSL voiced its support for a national framework for taxing digital downloads to the House Committee on Judiciary, but also raised concerns that the Digital Goods and Services Tax Fairness Act (H.R. 1860) would preempt state statutes and harm state revenue bases. NCSL’s statement warns that H.R. 1860 “fails to adequately establish clear rules for the sourcing of transactions and fails to sufficiently define the types of taxes subject to the measure.” Additionally, H.R. 1860 would preempt the 24 states of the Streamlined Sales Tax Agreement who have already negotiated an agreement on the taxation of digital goods. Illinois Senator Pam Althoff and Maryland Delegate Sheila Hixson, co-chairs of NCSL’s Task Force on State and Local Taxation, signed the letter, available here: http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/telecom/ncsl-letter-on-the-digital-goods-and-services-tax.aspx. NCSL staff contacts: Neal Osten, Max Behlke


SEQUESTRATION ROUNDABOUT CONTINUES

The federal government hopes to achieve $1.2 trillion in savings over the next nine years, split evenly between defense and non-defense programs, through across-the-board spending cuts called sequestration. But exactly how sequestration will be carried out and what the impact will be are still big unknowns. To help identify exactly what the possible savings and effects might be, the Senate farm bill (S. 3240) would require several reports on how the across-the-board spending cuts would affect military preparedness and non-defense discretionary spending. The bill, which passed by a 64-35 vote, would require the administration to issue three reports. These include: 1) an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report providing top-level budget figures from sequestration 30 days after final passage; 2) a Pentagon report detailing the impact on defense by Aug. 15; and 3) a report from the president outlining how the sequester would be applied along with the impact of non-defense spending within 60 days of enactment or no later than Oct. 30. The House Budget Committee unanimously passed similar language (H.R. 5872) requiring OMB and the Pentagon to report on the effect of the sequester cuts. These proposals have made lawmakers consider delaying the automatic budget cuts that are set to start at the beginning of 2013. In recent months the administration has remained steadfast that it’s not planning for the sequester, urging Congress, instead, to replace it by passing a comprehensive deficit reduction plan. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


FEDERALISM AND THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

With last week’s decision on the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded a term checkered with rulings with major federalism implications for state and local governments. To learn more about how these rulings could affect your state, NCSL and the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) is offering a free webinar on July 19, 2012, that will feature prominent speakers who argued many of these cases before the Supreme Court. To register for the webinar, please go to https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/599978554. NCSL staff contact: Susan Parnas Frederick, SLLC contact: Lisa Soronen