State's cranberry hand-outs an exercise in 'economic lunacy'

Nov 14, 2017

To the Editor:

While there’s nothing new with government handouts to our local cranberry industry, the latest proposals in the Massachusetts State House (HB 2654 and HB 2655) are record breaking in their economic lunacy.

Despite marketing claims that cranberries are “wonder berries,” the surplus of unwanted cranberries continues. This supply-demand imbalance, (due largely to consumers recognizing that cranberry products are loaded with more added sugar than in Coke, Pepsi, and Reese’s Cups), is so severe that much of last year’s crop is still in freezers and much of this year’s crop is not far behind.

Nevertheless, HR 2654 (one of a wish list of proposed giveaways from the cranberry ‘revitalization’ task force) proposes tax credits for growers who replace old cranberry vines with those capable of producing up to four times as many cranberries.

But, what conceivable sense does it make to provide millions in tax credits (our hard-earned dollars that is) to exponentially increase the excess supply of unwanted cranberries?

To make matters worse, many of these unwanted cranberries are ultimately purchased by the federal government (us) at above market prices (bail-out) and used to make sugar loaded cranberry drinks and dried products for children in the free and reduced school meal programs. The trouble is, these kids already have a disturbingly disproportionate rate of obesity. And 92 percent of the calories in dried cranberries are from “added sugar” and 88 percent of the calories in cranberry juice cocktail are from “added sugar”, according to the Ocean Spray CEO.

Add to this the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report which concluded that there is a strong association between the reduced intake of added sugars and a reduction in cardiovascular disease. Thus, using state tax dollars to increase the cranberry surplus, which, in turn, will trigger federal tax dollars to buy up cranberries the market place doesn’t want, to pump tons of added sugar into an already unhealthy population is just plain dopey.

And HB 2655 takes the insanity (greed) even further. This “revitalization” gimmick proposes that cranberry farmers who convert their agricultural land to nonagricultural uses, like the proposed solar farm in Wareham, will no longer have to pay to the town the roll back taxes which the existing law requires (Chapter 61A). The rest of us pay property taxes based on real world assessed values. Cranberry growers, on the contrary, do not. Consequently, they pay a pittance (as much as 1/33 of what we pay) in exchange for the obligation to reimburse a portion of these massive property tax discounts if the use of the property changes.

Apparently, the plethora of federal and state giveaways which are the DNA of industrial solar projects aren’t enough. Cranberry farmers who host these industrial electrical production facilities now also want to renege on their social contract to pay back a portion of the real estate tax gift extended to them for decades. And all in the name of “revitalization,” no less.

Massachusetts’ defective cranberry industry will never be revitalized with illogical financial giveaways, and it will never achieve genuine financial sustainability by the legislature perpetuating its addiction to government bailouts and freebies.

Barry C. Cosgrove