The ultimate task this session of the Indiana General Assembly faces is preparing and approving a budget for the state for the next two-year fiscal period. Although there were more than 1,300 bills introduced, the only one that the legislature must deal with, and the one that could have the most impact upon agriculture and taxpayers for the next two years, is the budget bill.
Katrina Hall, tax specialist and legislative advisor for Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc., says that monitoring the progress of the budget through this legislative session rates as the number one priority item to watch. She's encouraging farmers and taxpayers to keep an eye on it as well, and to let their representatives and senators know their thoughts whenever possible.
The goal, Hall outlined in a report to Farm Bureau members but available to everyone, is to ask legislators to pass a balanced budget. While that may seem like a common sense move, it's not always a sure-thing in the world of politics, especially when there's not enough money to go around for projects that many legislators would like to support.
Second, it's important to make sure that agriculture emerges unscathed from budget battles, she adds. The goal she believes agriculture should pursue is asking for a balanced budget passed for the next biennium that doesn't adversely affect agriculture in some way.
Farmers and landowners could already have an increasingly tough go of it over the next two to four or more years, even if all tax laws remain as they are. That's because the formula that the Department of Local Government Finance uses to determine value of average farmland will be increasing. The formula is based on such things as crop prices, and it runs a couple years behind the actual year in which taxes are paid. So as older years roll off and newer years with higher crop prices roll on, the formula will result in higher assessed value for bare farmland. In fact, Purdue University ag economists predict that the assessed value could be as high as $1,690 per acre for taxes payable in '12.
Another key area to watch, Hall says, as the legislature debates the budget situation, is if it attempts to pass anything that might affect local governments, which in the long run could affect what local governments do to raise funds. The key is making sure that agriculture doesn't become the source that everyone goes to for tax relief, especially on property taxes.
Stay tuned for more insight as the legislative session unfolds.