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Patrick Calls on Miller to Halt Fee Hikes

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Bob Daemmrich
/
The Texas Tribune

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a response from Agriculture Commissioner  Sid Miller's office. 

Add Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to the growing list of those exhorting Sid Miller to halt his plans to hike fees for a wide range of licenses, registrations and services the Texas Department of Agriculture provides.

"I have called on Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller to put the brakes on these proposed fees increases," Patrick said in a statement Wednesday. "The senators and I have more questions than answers."

Patrick said he raised those questions in a letter to Miller earlier this week.

The Republican joins industry groups such as the Texas Farm Bureau and at least 72 House lawmakers in opposing the fee increases, which would raise millions of dollars that Miller says are needed for the agency to continue to meet its diverse assortment of duties, including licensing, certifying and inspecting agricultural goods such as eggs.

The Texas Tribune reported on the ag angst late Tuesday.

Miller says the Legislature has left his agency underfunded and increasingly dependent on fees ever since it slashed its budget in 2011. Critics point out that Miller championed those cuts during his days in the Texas House. And they say his recent push for funding before the Legislature would have expanded government rather than addressing the problems he has identified. 

On Wednesday, Miller's office said it was reviewing public comments on the fee proposal and that many "reflect significant support" for the Legislature to boost the agency's revenue to avoid fee increases. 

"The commissioner looks forward to the opportunity to work with stakeholders and lawmakers to do just that," said Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman. "The fact remains that without these fee changes, the agency will not be able to accomplish its mission to serve and grow the agriculture industry and carry out the important consumer protection services Texas statute requires."

The new fees, proposed in October, are scheduled to kick in on Dec. 1. The increases are significant. Prices for field inspections to certify seeds, for instance, would increase anywhere from a few cents to more than a dollar per acre, while application fees would at least double.

Patrick and other lawmakers are calling on Miller to explain the rationale behind each significant hike.

"We need to better understand how these additional increases, for example, will impact Texas farmers and ranchers. We also want to know how it will help improve the Department of Agriculture's ability to better serve Texans," Patrick’s statement said. 

Miller will answer questions from Senate lawmakers on Dec. 8 during a hearing of the Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs, chaired by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

“It’ll be fair, transparent, open and difficult, but it’ll get to the bottom of it,” Perry said. “It’ll be Commissioner Miller’s opportunity to explain himself.” 

Disclosure: The Texas Farm Bureau is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/11/11/patrick-calls-miller-halt-fee-hikes/.