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More Ag Groups Speak Against Use-Value Budget Provision, WFBF Fires Back at Kreitlow Comment
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 06/24/2009

With the legislative conference committee set to take up the state budget bill this week, more Wisconsin farm organizations are stepping forward to urge lawmakers to scrap a provision that modifies the definition of agricultural land for the purposes of property taxation. In just the past several days, the Wisconsin Soybean Association, Wisconsin Pork Association and Wisconsin Farmers Union have all issued notices to their members asking them to contact their area state lawmakers and urge them to drop the two sentence clause in the document that may make most farmers ineligible for use-value assessment tax breaks.

WFU President Sue Beitlich says if the use-value assessment law falls apart because of this budget provision, it could mean even more economic hardship for the state's farm producers.

"With Wisconsin's farmers facing unprecedented economic hardships, now is not the time to be increasing their property taxes," said Beitlich. "This may be a well-intentioned budget provision to collect taxes from developers who are avoiding their tax liabilities, but this is not a simple issue. Farmers will be taxed off their land in the process."

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation--which was the first organization to bring the issue to the forefront last week--sent a letter of response to Wisconsin Ag Connection on Tuesday after we ran a story about State Senator Pat Kreitlow's stance on the issue. In that article, the Chippewa Falls Democrat was quoted as saying 'I believe the Farm Bureau group, which has more than its share of non-farm members, is not looking out for the farm families that benefit the most from it.' He also stated that he supports the provision because too many non-farmers are taking advantage of use-value assessment by 'taking agricultural land that they have every intention of developing, putting a few token stalks of corn on it, calling it 'ag land,' and reaping a tax benefit that was not intended for them.'

WFBF Chief Administrative Officer Roger Cliff said Kreitlow's comments show why issues like this should not be stuffed in the massive state budget bill.

"Major modifications to a law that is vital to the future of family farmers all over the state should be introduced as separate legislation, with public hearings, so our legislators can fully understand what they are doing," Cliff said in response. "To put it mildly, Senator Kreitlow doesn't know what he is talking about when it comes to use value assessment. I worked for 30 years on behalf of the Farm Bureau to finally get use value enacted. What he and his Senate Democratic colleagues are proposing to do could very well be the beginning of the end of use value."

Cliff also noted that Kreitlow was likely told that this budget amendment is aimed at the 'big, bad developers,' but instead misses the mark and hits a lot of family farmers in the process.

"Here are a few things that will happen if this passes. In addition to the farmers in urbanizing areas, many farmers in rural areas would also see their property taxes skyrocket. One of the things the Senator doesn't understand is that a lot of rural agricultural areas are zoned rural residential. Thousands of farmers in those zones will no longer be eligible for use value."

The Farm Bureau says if the provision goes through, town, city, village and county governments would be able to determine which farmers get use value and which do not.

"If they don't like certain farming operations, or want to force them to do something, they can just zone their farm rural residential and as a result their property taxes will go through the roof," Cliff said.

All of the farm groups agree that the key to being heard is for concerned citizens to call their local Assembly and Senate representatives, as well as Governor Doyle's office at 608-266-1212.


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