The annual Indiana Farm Bureau legislative kickoff drew an overflow crowd of farmers from across the state to the State Capitol to meet with their lawmakers as the General Assembly opened its second day of the 2016 short session. IFB president Randy Kron, in his new position for only the second day, said Farm Bureau members are making an impact with lawmakers, “This is what Farm Bureau is all about — members engaged to speak up for agriculture.”
One of the issues that helped bring out the crowd was property taxes. Kron says he is optimistic the legislature will address the issue of taxing farmland, “I am very optimistic that the General Assembly has heard our message on property taxes.” He said there are several bills that have been introduced that address the need to fix the tax assessment of farmland which has increased by over 40% in recent years, “Take my farm, for example. We pay $42 an acre in farmland taxes; that is not reasonable in a farm environment we are having right now.” He added this issue is a threat to the future of all Indiana farms and urged lawmakers to find a solution this session. SB 436 is a measure that addresses many of the concerns of Farm Bureau.
Another top issue for Farm Bureau, said Kron, is funding for rural roads and bridges, “I think we are going to see some real movement in the right direction.” What gives Kron such confidence is the number of bills that have been introduced dealing with funding of infrastructure and the fact that the Governor has made it one of his legislative priorities. Lt. Governor Sue Ellsperman, who spoke to the group, told HAT she and the Governor are pushing hard for a solution to funding Indiana infrastructure, “We realize how important this issue is all many Indiana industries and agriculture is right there at the top.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma told the farmers there are several road and bridge funding bills that will be introduced into this session and that he is confident there will be a solution. At this point, the major difference is where the money comes from. Some are proposing surplus tax funds currently in reserve, while others are calling for a tax increase to generate new revenue. In the end, the final bill is likely to be a mix of several sources, according to Katrina Hall with the IFB Public Policy division.
Other issues being watched closely by Farm Bureau members include annexation, tax audits, renewable energy, and food safety. Farm Bureau members were challenged to make at least two separate trips to the Statehouse during this legislative session to share their concerns with their elected officials.