In an unusual move the Indiana General Assembly on Monday, Feb. 18, passed Senate Bill 319 in the House unanimously. The bill now awaits the signature of Governor Pence to become law.
The 97-0 vote after a 48-0 vote in the Senate should send a powerful message after the Department of Local Government Finance tried to raise property tax bills on farmland through the back door. One year ago they attempted to introduce a new rating system on soil productivity which would have cost Indiana taxpayers $57 million in one year.
Indiana Farm Bureau helped block it for a year in the legislature last spring, but the new index was set to kick in without further action this year. The index is totally separate from the formula that determines the value of average bare farmland. That formula will continue to cause increases in the property tax assessment over the next few years. The legislature has taken no action to address the formula However, if the soil productivity index change would have been allowed to kick in on top of the formula, property taxes on farmland would have ramped up even faster.
Legislators decided to expedite the bill when word slipped out 10 days ago that DLGF intended to tell assessors to use the new index beginning March 1. Reportedly their hope was that the legislature would not pass the bill until near the end of the session, and the increases would already have been figured into bills payable next year. While the legislature could have made the change retroactive it would have cost a lot of money to redo what was already done.
This way the legislature will block DLGF from taking that action, and save farmers $57 million for next year and every year after until a change is made. The bill also invites DLGF to confer with Purdue over the soil productivity index, not over the general formula that sets the assessment value, and bring any suggested changes back to the legislature for approval before taking any action.
Indiana Farm Bureau primarily Katrina Hall and Bob Kraft, with assistance from Bob Cherry, a representative, R-Greenfield, played a key role in bringing this situation tot eh attention of legislators, and expediting passage.