As North Dakotans, we value community. Write it with a capital 'C' or type it out in all caps. We believe in community services, community development and community facilities. North Dakotans are wired to look out for each other and build up places where we all matter. That's why, when reading the budget that President Trump sent to Congress, North Dakotans who value community should be alarmed.
I paid particular attention to the cuts to agriculture, and the proposed elimination of programs in USDA Rural Development. It's my focus as a lifelong agriculturalist who believes rural places matter. And I know the value of those programs and what's at stake as the immediate past state director for Rural Development, the only agency dedicated solely and completely to helping rural places succeed and prosper.
Budgets show priorities, and they demonstrate values. A White House budget that takes one of its biggest axes to agriculture, a 21 percent whack or $4.7 billion, may show Manhattan penthouse priorities and the values of the Washington, DC, 'Heritage Foundation' ideologues who have had agriculture in their crosshairs for a long time, but it doesn't match up with the hard working community-minded folks I know, the true heritage of North Dakota.
If America is to move forward with infrastructure investments, completely scrapping the successful Rural Development water and wastewater program makes no sense at all. And it'll seriously hurt North Dakota. The towns and water systems that have benefitted from the program is basically an 'A to Z' list of our state. Since 2000, the program has invested $321 million into North Dakota water infrastructure. Forty percent of that figure is straight out grant, and the rest is low interest, long term loans. Without those programs, think about monthly water bills doubling or tripling for families, or communities not being able to modernize their water systems. The Trump budget eliminates the program. Instead of $321 million for North Dakota communities, it becomes a zero.
Likewise, the president zeroes out all RD Rural Business programs in North Dakota that use annual appropriations. That's pretty much the entire department. These are the no cost loan dollars that flow through our community-minded electric and telephone cooperatives for the projects in their communities that residents need-child care centers, hospitals and clinics, essential ag businesses and employers. These are the loan guarantees that our community banks count on to put together a loan package for a promising new employer in a rural community. It's the modest seed money that can launch big ideas in small towns. In the last eight years, these loans, grants and guarantees invested $172 million in North Dakota. Scratch that out and replace it with a zero.
All of us in rural North Dakota, all of us who know the value of our rural areas, need to come together with a collective voice, stick up for our communities and stand up against this budget. It's who we are. Count me in.
Taylor is a former state senator from 2002 to 2012 and the immediate past state director for USDA Rural Development.