Do we need to subsidize our 22nd largest industry?

A news story on covers some Republican lawmakers complaints that Governor Rendell budget cuts are too steep, at least in regard to agriculture subsidies (HT Grassroots PA).  Rep Denlinger and Sen. Brubaker are quoted in defense of government subsidies for “the state’s largest industry” and “state’s number-one industry”.

I honestly have no clue where the “top industry” label comes from, but I’m sure it plays well politically in some districts. But agriculture is not Pennsylvania’s largest industry in any regard, not by a long shot – it is 22nd out of 22 categories in number of jobs provided, and 19th out of 19 categories in contribution to GDP.  And it remains last despite getting heavy subsidies from both state and federal taxpayers

Most economists agree that agriculture subsidies are not good for the economy, or even for farmers, and Cato gives the top ten reasons to cut farm subsidies.  Our Spending Tips 2009 identifies plenty more state agriculture programs that should be cut from the budget, not increased.

If lawmakers are truly concerned about helping farmers, they should repeal the state’s inheritance tax, which affects family owned farms, rather than the corporate farms taking much of the subsidies.  And some lawmakers – like Rep. Will Tallman – are working on this issue.