A year ago in the January 2015 issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer, the headline on its editorial got right to the heart of what farmers needed from the upcoming legislative session: “Farmers waiting for true property tax relief.”
The postscript to that story was that farmers got what they had waited so long for. The 2016 Legislature enacted real change that helped put property taxes on farmland back in line.
So what about 2017? How will agriculture fare this legislative session? To answer that question, let’s go back to why 2016 proved to be a watershed year for agriculture in the Legislature.
Property tax success
Indiana Farm Bureau was a driver in obtaining legislation that added up to true property tax relief a year ago. Led by Katrina Hall, one of the state’s foremost experts on property taxes, IFB kept the issue in front of legislators during the entire session, and provided a vital link between farmer members and legislators.
Justin Schneider, director of state government relations for IFB, says that it was farmer members, and not just the action of IFB staff, that swung the needle toward passing true property tax relief. “Our county Farm Bureaus take turns coming to the statehouse nearly every day,” he says. “Some counties come two or three times.”
Overall, some 800 IFB members walked the halls of the statehouse at one time or another, talking to their legislators and transmitting one clear message: “Farmers need true property tax relief, and we need it now.”
Legislators listen carefully when citizens talk to them, Schneider says. If the person is from the district they represent, they listen even closer.
Hall told reporters after the session that if it wasn’t for individual farmers and landowners contacting legislators, both in person and by phone or other means, obtaining property tax relief would have been much more difficult.
Look to 2017
What will be the key issues for agriculture this legislative session? “It’s going to be all about the budget,” Schneider says. “The long session is a budget year, and the Legislature has key decisions to make on funding.”
Here are a few points to keep in mind, he notes. First, a large portion of the state budget is dedicated to big-ticket items, which must be funded each year. By the time those obligations are met, it’s a much smaller pool of money than one might think left for legislators to work with on other causes.
Second, roads and infrastructure will receive lots of attention. Many considered what the Legislature did a year ago was a stop-gap measure. The issue of how to fund road and bridge improvement will be back on the front burner.
Third, Schneider says a large number of various groups, not just from agriculture, will come to the Legislature for funding this year. He has received more requests than usual from groups wanting to know how to seek funding.
The successful formula will be the same as last year, he says. Ag groups that have a cause they believe in will need to keep a unified message in front of legislators constantly. If the message comes from grassroots supporters, it will have the best chance for success.