It was nearly 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon recently before Katrina Hall could catch her breath long enough to call and update me on legislative issues related to agriculture moving in the Indiana General Assembly. You could almost hear the exhaustion in her voice. The legislature was just at the halfway point for this session, and she was in need of a weekend recharge - but not before she made sure I understood the issues.
“It gets crazy here,” Hall says. “We try to keep up with everything that affects resolutions our members have passed. You have to keep track of what’s in committee hearing, what bills are yet to be heard, what reading bills in either chamber are on, and what bills have passed out of one chamber or the other.”
Hall took the reins as lead of the Indiana Farm Bureau legislative department a couple years ago. Her duties include lobbying at the General Assembly, plus staying in touch with other Farm Bureau members on her staff that also lobby there. A typical day might find her on the phone with a legislator or an aide, perhaps at a legislative luncheon or more likely testifying at or listening to a hearing on a bill within one of the legislative committees.
And all the while Hall says you must be ready for the unexpected. You never know when someone is going to try to sneak something onto a bill that you’ve been watching. In 2015 that maneuver almost killed one of the extremely important property tax bills concerning Indiana farmland. “We got down to the final half hour of the session, and it was nerve-wracking,” she recalls. In the end, the bill passed and farmers got a reprieve from paying even higher property taxes.
This year is no different. “There is a bill moving that would end the issue of revising soil productivity indexes on farmland once and for all,” she says. “We’re watching it closely, and supporting the bill. It’s been a chore to make sure a bill passes every year to prevent this from being enacted. It would result in increased property taxes on farmland.”
A member of the Indiana Farm Bureau staff for a long time, Hall is recognized as a leading authority on property taxes and their impact on taxpayers, particularly farmers.
In the recent past, Hall spoke at a nationwide meeting of people fighting property tax issues. “One thing I learned that in some states, legislators don’t listen to arguments about lowering property taxes for farmers very well,” she says. “I came back feeling very fortunate that for the most part, our legislators understand the situation, and make an honest effort to do what they can to help. It just takes time.”
She would be too modest to say it, but it’s not an accident that Indiana legislators are more in tune with property tax issues and the mounting tax load on farmers than in many other states. Hall and her stand, along with countless volunteer Farm Bureau members statewide, have made real efforts over the past several years to keep property tax concerns in front of them. She’s convinced the effort is paying off.
That doesn’t mean there still aren’t surprises from time to time. Just before voting on a bill primarily about transportation in one of the Houses, someone slipped in an amendment that would decrease state income tax by 5%. “Governor Pence promised a 10% cut in state income tax when he was elected, and he got half of it the first year, but not the other half,” she says. “We’re not sure what’s going on, but it could be some legislators are trying to deliver the other half of that reduction in state income taxes. We will have to watch what happens.”
Rest assured, Hall will be watching! And when she needs to, she will be talking- to legislators, their staffs and to Farm Bureau members. It’s how she gets things done!