The Indiana Senate last week made a clear statement on Senate Bill 319 that farmers and ag lobbyists hope was heard in the offices of the Department of Local Government Finance. The bill freezes the soil productivity index, which factors into determining the value of bare farmland at 2011 levels, before the DLGF attempts to boost property tax liabilities by revising the index.
The bill didn't just pass, it passed unanimously by a vote of 48 to 0. The House is still considering its own version of similar legislation.
Bob Kraft, Indiana Farm Bureau lobbyist, says that the legislation would prevent DLGF from revising the soil productivity index, which varies the value of soils based on soil type and potential productivity, until it reviews the index with Purdue University specialists. Then and only then, DLGF could propose changes, but any changes would have to be approved by the General Assembly first.
The change would be a far cry from the ploy DGLF attempted to pull off a year ago. Having authority to do so under current laws, DLGF announced that it would revise soil productivity factors. The changes would have cost Indiana landowners of farmland $57 million just in 2013 alone.
Katrina Hall, another Farm Bureau Lobbyist, and Kraft, helped convince legislators to pressure DLGF to delay the change a year ago. However, without legislative action this year, the changes would go into effect, and increase values on land for property taxes payable in 2014.
The fact that the Senate passed the bill without even one dissenting vote shows that legislators understand what is at stake for farmers, Kraft believes. Property tax bills on bare farmland are rising about 10% per year, more or less, as it is, without changes that would send them even higher. Farmers did not share in the property tax reform of the Daniels Administration nearly as much as homeowners.