Ask Bob Kraft whether the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly was good for agriculture, and he doesn't hesitate. His answer is a resounding 'yes.' However, since it happened so long ago, one of the biggest victories for farmers may have already been forgotten.
"The first bill passed was very important," says Kraft, a lobbyist for Indiana Farm Bureau. "It was one of our priorities. It prevented the Department of Local Government Finance from putting new soil productivity factors in place that would have raised property tax bills on bare farmland by an estimated $57 million every year."
Here's a recap. The saga started when the DLGF tried to slip in the change in the jubilation of Super Bowl Weekend in Indianapolis in 2012. Fortunately for farmers, Farm Bureau lobbyists were wide awake and caught the move by DLGF. The lobbyists successfully convinced lawmakers to delay it for a year.
That brought us to 2013. Without further action by the legislature, the bill would have gone into effect March 1 and affected property tax bills payable based on 2013. One year ago, Indiana Farm Bureau estimated the increase would be about $57 million statewide. This is on top of the increase occurring because of the regular property tax formula for bare ground. It was in place, and is still in place, and was not touched or discussed in the 2013 session, at least not in public.
Once Indiana Farm Bureau got wind in late February that DLGF intended to instruct assessors to start using the new soil productivity indexes March 1, they and others who supported stopping the practice went into quick action. DLGF apparently reasoned that the bill wouldn't pass or be signed into law until near the end of the session in late April. By that time, their assessors would already have raised assessment and property tax liability on many acres.
Instead, the bill passed both houses unanimously, almost unheard of, and was put on a fast track to the Governor's Desk. It was the first bill that Mike Pence signed as governor.
While the bill prohibits DLGF from implementing the new soil productivity index this year, it does allow, and in fact orders, DLGF to work with Purdue University officials and develop an assessment and appraisal of whether or not current soil productivity factors are accurate. The information is to be delivered to the legislature for consideration late this year.