The Indiana General Assembly convenes in just about one month. And while it is a short session and not a budget session, what happens or doesn't happen in Indianapolis can still affect your bottom line in 2016.
"Property tax reform is still our number one priority," says Katrina Hall, director of legislative services for Indiana Farm Bureau. "We've made a lot of progress over the past couple of years, but there's still a ways to go to get farmers true property tax relief."
Indeed, much of what Indiana Farm Bureau has led the charge against the past two sessions is preventing property tax increases on farmland. Convincing legislators to stop the soil productivity index rating change once again saved farmers tens of millions of dollars collectively, just as it in the past several years.
Lobbying legislators for a freeze on assessed value for bare farmland at $2,050 per acre in the 2015 session also helped. Legislators approved the one-year freeze, which also saved farmers millions of dollars.
It's not just landowners who benefit when property tax increases are blocked. Since many landowners believe they should pass increased property taxes along in cash rent agreements to those farming their land, it really benefits all farmers.
The progress made during the past few years by Indiana Farm Bureau and other ag groups has resulted in more than just huge savings for farmers. It has also provided education for legislators who don't have any ties to agriculture. Many didn't realize that property taxes paid by farmers was still increasing every year, even though homeowners were benefitting from the 1% property tax cap imposed by the circuit breaker system.
The cap on farmland is 2%, and in many rural counties, even though property taxes due for bare farmland have increased every year over the past several years, the rising values have yet to trigger the 2% cap. Right now, landowners and farmers would see property tax rates increase each year unless the legislature intervened.
Perhaps Randy Kron, Evansville, the incoming state president of Indiana Farm Bureau, said it best. Shortly after his election, he made this comment to Indiana Prairie Farmer.
"We moved the ball a long ways down the field over the past couple of years when it comes to achieving gains on the property tax issue," Kron says. "But we still haven't reached the end zone. We need to keep working until we reach the end zone."
IFB has some specific proposals on how to get the ball moving down the field again. Some involve tweaking how the property tax formula that determines values for bare farmland is applied. Another would seek a reduction in the 2% cap on farmland. Almost everyone agrees it's time for the soil productivity index rating dilemma to be put to bed permanently, with ratings left as they are today.
The challenge this session, however, may be keeping legislators focused on the importance of continuing to address property tax relief for farmers. What we've seen so far are noble efforts to keep property tax bills from spiraling higher. We've yet to see real relief in terms of lower property tax bills.
Besides social issues road and bridge funding will likely take up a lot of time this session. Even before the I-65 bridge debacle last summer, many felt this session would focus heavily on how to improve Indiana's transportation system. Hall says several key legislators said as much at the end of the 2015 session.
Our concern is that property tax reform may get lost in the shuffle of these other issues, especially since some legislators believe they have already addressed it. You can help, Hall says. Make sure you talk to your representatives and senators early and often, urging them to continue working toward true property tax relief for farmers. If nothing else is true when it comes to politics, this is true: politicians pay attention to people who can vote for them, especially in an election year.