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State budget reform tops list for Farm Bureau

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Farm Bureau members across Iowa believe that sound budgeting practices protect Iowa's resources, families, and taxpayers.

"Iowa's success over the next few years depends on responsible budget reform this year," said Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) President Craig Lang, on the heels of Governor Culver's Condition of the State Address. "We look forward to sharing our plan for budget reform with the Governor and state lawmakers."

"The state's budgeting process is broken, and that's increasing pressure to raise property taxes during a very uncertain time for farmers and all Iowans," said Lang. "During the 2009 legislative session, the Governor signed the state's largest budget ever, despite the economic downturn."

The revenue shortfall prompted Governor Culver to impose across-the-board budget cuts, which are forcing Iowans to deal with more than $250 million in potential property tax increases as school districts and local governments make up for lost state funds. "That's a heavy burden for rural schools already financially strapped," said Lang. "And, if the Governor uses $100 million in cash reserves to backfill education as he proposed today, then we need to be assured that those dollars will be used to reduce the impact to property taxpayers."

To improve the state's budgeting process, Farm Bureau members will work with decision makers to establish an affordable state budget that will: 1) fund Iowa priorities and lessen the potential shifts in property taxes; 2) ensure that the state's emergency funds are at a level sufficient to protect priorities when revenues are declining; 3) create fiscal responsibility by not using one-time resources to fund on-going expenditures; and 4) protect property taxpayers when across-the-board cuts are enacted.

As they push to enact budget reform, Farm Bureau members will also work to prevent changes to the state's income or property tax system that would increase taxes on Iowans. They will oppose the elimination of federal deductibility on Iowa income taxes and changes to the property tax system, including changes to the agriculture productivity formula and assessment of farm buildings. Lang noted that property taxes are a major issue because in the past decade they have soared by $1.59 billion, or 60 percent.

Increased property taxes are just one of the effects of flawed budgeting. "Today, Governor Culver proposed to take dollars out of the state's road use tax fund to pay for the Iowa State Patrol and the Department of Public Safety. Farm Bureau members believe that officers who protect the public are essential to the well-being of our state, but they also feel that diverting money from a fund that keeps our roads and bridges functioning and safe for Iowa families is not the way to do it," Lang said. "Unfortunately, the damage Iowa's roads and bridges sustained from major flooding in 2008 have worsened with severe weather elements in 2009. We need to properly fund both the Iowa State Patrol and roads and bridges to ensure public safety.

Iowans have been told that the $1 billion in the road use tax fund -- which comes from the fuel tax, license fees, etc. -- will be used to keep their roads and bridges maintained, and lawmakers need to keep that promise."

Another priority for Farm Bureau members in the 2010 legislative session is to ask the legislature to declare farm buildings exempt from required electrical inspections. "The law was not intended to cover agricultural buildings," said Lang.

"The ruling imposed by Iowa's Electrical Examining Board to add farm buildings and structures to the list that require an inspection creates more red tape and expense for farmers at a time when they are struggling to make a profit."

In addition to its cost-saving efforts, Farm Bureau will continue to work toward initiatives that benefit the environment, including a push to increase renewable fuel use and protect current funding for soil and water conservation cost-share programs. "Responsible budgeting will allow us to fund our state's critical conservation needs," said Lang. "Real reform is needed, and Farm Bureau members are ready to work with lawmakers to make that happen."

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