Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Expanding the ag exemption

In Joanna's Sunday news story and today's editorial we learn about HB2552 and SB1183, legislation moving through both chambers that will extend the agricultural designation to land used for commercial breeding, boarding and training horses and other equine animals. Joanna's piece provides some detailed research pointing up the chain of custody for this idea, apparently starting with an additional 800 bucks in taxes for a Republican-connected rancher in Skull Valley. It seems our county assessor has been applying the letter of the law a little more assiduously than her predecessors have. Good for her, and good for the state.

The editorial expresses a surprising amount of heartburn over this pretty obvious favoritism and its sponsorship by our own Sen Steve Pierce and co-sponsorship by Rep Karen Fann.

From my reading of the bills, I don't think it's fair to imagine that this tax break will go to most of the horsey set in Williamson Valley, etc. The legislation clearly states that this is for commercial uses, and I think our assessors can figure out what's commercial and what's not.

What puzzles me is that it's moving through both houses with almost no dissent. Why are the Dems going along? Then I notice that the House bill includes as a non-commercial exception "equine rescue facilities," and I suspect there may have been a deal done. It looks like the Senate version meant to include this as well, but someone left the word 'rescue' out, maybe by mistake. From the rest of the bill it's clear Mr Pierce doesn't put much stock in proofreading. In any case I firmly doubt that our Dem legislators, almost all of whom represent urban districts, know much about this as an issue. I hope to get some firsthand info this week.

I support the purpose of the ag exemption, which is to encourage the local growing of food, something that benefits us all in many ways. I don't get how boarding riding horses (or, say, dogs) fits that mandate. The bill could have specified land supporting horse operations directly associated with a clearly related purpose, like cattle. It doesn't.
The abuse of the ag exemption by developers (like Mr Pierce) is irritating and costs us dearly. This appears to offer those developers a new way to abuse it. Closing that loophole would do a lot to raise the credibility of rural Republicans. (By the way, everyone, horses and cattle are not agriculture, they're husbandry. Sheesh.)

At any rate, kudos to Joanna for the research and to the unnamed editor for calling a spade a spade. Here's a cookie!

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