Bush budget calls for cuts in rural development

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush's proposed budget for next year includes cuts in rural development assistance and clean water projects, two areas that could affect communities in Wisconsin.

The budget, released Monday, calls for a $500 million cut in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. That program, currently funded at $1.3 billion, provides low interest loans to states and communities for clean water pollution control projects.

The Northeast-Midwest Congressional and Senate Coalitions had requested the program be funded at $3.2 billion.

Russ Rasmussen, director of the Wisconsin of Bureau of Watershed Management, said the cuts would have an impact on the state, but it was too soon to quantify the extent.

Bush also proposes significant cuts in rural development. Among them:

--$600 million for rural business and industry loans, down from $839 million currently.

--$331 million for a rural broadband loan program, down from $600 million.

--$346 million for rural water and wastewater grants, down from $545 million.

"Rural development programs are used by Wisconsin farmers and people who live in the areas," said Sue Beitlich, a dairy farmer in Stoddard, Wis., and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

"We need to keep people in rural Wisconsin, and keep people on the land," she said. "It's very disappointing to those of us struggling out here in rural Wisconsin and rural America."

Many rural development programs are funded by the Agriculture Department. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations agriculture subcommittee, will wield considerable power in shaping the final numbers.

"When properly funded, these programs are a great benefit to rural America and its economy," Kohl said. "I will work with my colleagues in both parties to restore funding for these critical programs."

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., criticized Bush for proposing a budget with a $521 billion deficit.

"I know that it is extremely difficult to find the political will to reduce deficits," he said. "When it comes to spending money or cutting taxes, there are long lines of volunteers, but reducing deficits is another matter."