Tuesday Roundup: Slow-Going Farm Bill
Dry weather is affecting corn crop • Sen. Reid says Republicans are dragging on farm bill • Penobscot River dams to be broken after two centuries • Iowa Farmers Union president says conservation program needed to steady prices
Lots of talk in the news today about repealing property taxes.
Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho is reversing a previous position and now favors phasing out the state’s $129 million personal property tax. The state tax accounts for about 11 percent of property taxes in Idaho.
There is already a draft bill circulating that would get rid of the state property tax. Expect to see it in the Idaho legislature in 2013.
Meanwhile, in North Dakota today, people are voting on a measure that would end the property tax entirely. The property tax brings in $812 million a year — and the proposition before voters doesn’t say how that income would be replaced.
The proposal is being opposed by the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce and the state’s Republican governor.
“This is a plan without a plan,” said Andy Peterson, president and chairman of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, who acknowledged that property taxes have climbed in some parts of the state and that North Dakota’s political leaders need to tackle the issue. “But this solution is a little like giving a barber a razor-sharp butcher knife — and by the way, this barber is blind — and asking him or her to give you a haircut. You’ll get the job done, but you might be missing an ear or an eye.”
Polls show that North Dakotans are against the measure, but should it pass, the winner could be Minnesota, writes the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The reasoning is that if the North Dakota property tax is ended, the state will have to raise it’s sales tax. That will make Minnesota stores more competitive with their North Dakota neighbors.
• Two-thirds of Iowa farm soil is short of moisture, which could end predictions of a bumper crop this year.
• A dam on the Penobscot River in Maine that has blocked the river for two centuries is being broken. And that could restore once-rich runs of salmon, shad, sturgeon, alewives, eels and smelt.
This has been a huge fight in Maine, with the Penobscot Indian Nation pushing for removal of a series of dams that block the river. “Today signifies the most important conservation project in our 10,000-year history on this great river that we share a name with, and that has provided for our very existence,” said the tribal chief, Kirk Francis.
• The President of the Iowa Farmers Union reminds us that the Conservation Reserve Program was instituted as a way to keep marginal land out of production — and provide some market stability for farmers. Chris Petersen (and Duane Sand, with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation) write:
Congress is now rewriting farm policy, and we need Congress to remember that compliance policies are not just about conservation; they also discourage overproduction. Congress ended most production controls with the 1996 farm bill. Since then, CRP and conservation compliance policies have slowed the rush to increase plantings when grain prices rise. However, these broken tools may not be enough to keep the current land boom from going bust. For example, Iowa farmers alone have converted over one million acres of grass and grazing lands to cropland in the last 25 years.
Except for the National Farmers Union, the farm lobby seems unconcerned about preserving the supply management value of conservation compliance. A USDA Economic Research Service review of proposed conservation compliance changes for the 2012 farm bill recently estimated that 259 million acres might no longer be subject to compliance requirements when subsidies are cut. If this happens, agriculture could easily return to overproduction and low crop prices.
• Idaho nonprofits (everything from hospitals to orchestras) employ 48,700 people, or 8 percent of the state’s workforce.
• The State University of Buffalo issued a report that found that state oversight had made drilling for natural gas safer. Now a group of professors and students say the report was biased by funding from energy companies.
“This report reflects the interests of the gas companies, not scholarship,” said Jim Holstun, a professor of English and one of around 20 members of the newly formed University at Buffalo Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research, which met for the first time Wednesday night. “We look very bad.”
• The wildfire near Fort Collins, Colorado, is now over 43,000 acres. Over 500 firefighters are at work.
• Harvest Public Media looks at whether genetically engineered corn is effective. Farmers are wondering.
• Good story in the Times about how Starbucks Coffee is “insourcing” new coffee mugs it is selling in its gazillion stores. The company has contracted with a company in East Liverpool, Ohio, to make the “Indivisible” mug.
• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said Monday that Republicans were slowing debate on the farm bill in order to hurt President Obama’s re-election chances.
The Senate voted 90-8 last week to begin floor action on the farm bill. But Republicans did not agree to move ahead without letting 30 hours expire before adopting the nearly unanimous motion.
“It’s a shame that we have now wasted 30 hours post-cloture on this bill,” Reid said on the Senate floor about the farm bill. “It’s a bill that passed by 90 senators agreeing we should move for debate on this bill.
“Republicans have made a decision that they would rather do anything they can to stop jobs from being created, hoping it will help them with the elections come November,” Reid charged. “Too often in this Congress, the Republican strategy has been to kill job-creating bills in the hopes of harming the economy and hurting President Obama.”