The legislature goes back to work this week in some states and for sure in Washington, D.C. That might bring a sigh from those who live there. Some might even remark: "The sausage factory is back in session again," or "the best things happen when they're not meeting, or when they do nothing at all."
Some might make those statements about the Indiana legislature, but for the most part, especially over the past couple of years, many in the ag community have been pleased with the work completed by the Indiana General Assembly, at least on the whole. Indiana Farm Bureau, among others, has viewed the last two sessions as positive for agriculture.
Part of the reason for that assessment, according to Katrina Hall, director of legislative services for Indiana Farm Bureau, is because the legislature for three years in a row, has delayed the soil productivity index factor revision proposed by the Department of Local Government Finance.
If allowed to go into effect, it would basically result in a collective increase of roughly $57 million per year on owners of bare farmland, on top of increases already accruing due to the existing property tax formula used to determine the assessed value of bare farmland each year.
Hall is hopeful that in the coming session, once and for all, this issue can be laid to rest. She believes more legislators all the time are realizing that the current index system is adequate. Some likely realize it was a thinly-disguised way to tax farmers who own land again.
Others are beginning to understand that while the Property Tax Reform of 2007 brought true relief to homeowners, it did little or nothing to help businesses, including farmers. In fact, the property tax bills for bare farmland have increased by about one-third on Indiana farmland since 2007. Indiana farmers and landowners are still waiting for property tax reform to begin on their side of the ledger.
If the soil productivity index issue is put to rest, Hall believes that may open the door for real discussion on the formula that currently causes property taxes on farmland to skyrocket each year. That trend will continue for the next several years unless the legislature steps in.
While it's a budget session, all matters that need to be considered by this session aren't directly related to the budget. One key issue for farmers is a law putting restraints on how cities can arbitrarily annex farmland. Legislation that gave farmers more clout in those decisions failed by one vote in 2014. Proponents ae hoping for success this time around.
Stay tuned while the legislature is in town for the next four months. We will keep you up to date.