The 2012 session of the Iowa Legislature finally came to a close last week—several weeks behind schedule. What was expected in January to be a short, orderly legislative session focusing on key priorities finally ended May 9 with the biggest single issue left undone. Commercial property tax reform remains for next year's session.
Also, many of Iowa's roads and bridges need repair and replacing. An increase in the state gas tax was proposed to help raise money to make such repairs, but that bill died this year. The issue will be discussed in the 2013 session of the Iowa Legislature.
The overall budget for the state of Iowa is $6.24 billion and is effective July 1. The Iowa Corn Growers Association says several budget bills that were passed in 2012 provide increased funding above last year's levels for programs of interest to ICGA. The Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship general fund received an increase of $584,000 and its Division of Soil Conservation budget was increased by $550,000. Conservation cost-sharing for farmers was raised by $350,000 and the ag drainage well closure funds were increased by $1.5 million. Also, $1 million was provided to the Iowa Watershed Improvement Review Board program (voluntary watershed funds, including some soil conservation funding and also rural & urban watershed cooperation programs).
Iowa's ethanol fuel tax differential is extended for another year—to July 2013
Other successes for ICGA this legislative session include the Ethanol Tax bill (HF 2472) which extends the ethanol fuel tax differential for an additional year. The Agro Terrorism bill (HF 589) which makes "agricultural production facility fraud" a crime and prohibits people from accessing facilities under false pretenses was signed into law. So was the Gilt Bill (SF 2172) which extends replacement breeding swine from the calculation of animal units in CAFOs with the intent of improving biosecurity.
"Unfortunately, the proposed increase in the state fuel tax, which was ICGA's top priority, was not taken up by the Iowa Legislature this year," says Mindy Larsen Poldberg, government affairs director for ICGA. "Corn growers favor an increase in the motor fuel tax as a way to raise funds needed to repair roads and bridges in Iowa."
The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farm organization in the state, issued a press release last week applauding Iowa lawmakers for several measures passed this year. Those bills will protect property owners from increasing property taxes, increase soil and water conservation funding and protect responsible Iowa livestock farmers from fraud.
Legislature provides property tax protection for landowners, homeowners
Several bills were passed in the recently completed legislative session that impact property taxes paid by landowners and homeowners. IFBF applauds two legislative issues that directly affect property owners including a combined $27 million increase to the homestead property tax credit and the ag land and family farm property tax credit, providing for direct property tax relief," says IFBF president Craig Hill, a crop and livestock farmer from Milo, in south central Iowa.
Additionally, the legislature reinstated the statewide dollar cap to ensure that property tax contributions to the mental health system remain limited and controlled. "These efforts, along with fully funding the legislature's K-12 education commitments, provide protections for property taxpayers and assure limited and controlled use of property tax dollars for these services," says Hill.
While Iowa Farm Bureau saw several of its priority issues win bi-partisan approval in the 2012 legislative session, Farm Bureau members are particularly pleased to see increased conservation and water quality cost-share funding for programs which are currently experiencing a backlog of unfunded projects. Many farmers are on long waiting lists in their counties, waiting to receive a limited amount of state cost-share funding to put conservation practices such as terraces, grass waterways, filter strips and other soil saving practices on the land.
Increased funding for conservation cost-sharing to protect land, water
"Farm Bureau members are pleased that lawmakers decided to increase state funding for incentive-based, voluntary conservation and water quality programs, including the Ag Drainage Well Closure program," says Hill. "Farmers know a 'one size fits all' approach doesn't work when it comes to conservation measures, but they do know what works best on their land."
Conservation measures such as buffer strips, terracing and other soil-protection and water quality measures have helped Iowa farmers reduce erosion by more than 30% since 1982, but requests for cost-share dollars to implement them have been grossly underfunded, notes Hill. The increase in state funding for the Ag Drainage Well Closure program and the Conservation Cost-Share program will translate into enhanced water quality and soil conservation in Iowa.
Passage of the state's new ag protection law is applauded by farmers
Another high priority issue for Iowa's family farmers which won passage in the 2012 legislature was the Agriculture Protection Bill. The bi-partisan House File (HF) 589 creates penalties for people who fraudulently gain access to a farm with the intent to cause harm. "It's about misrepresentation of character," says Hill. "Good farmers don't want to think that someone is sitting on the sidelines, watching bad things happen, just because they have some covert motive."
HF 589, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law earlier this spring, creates new penalties for people who make false statements to gain access to a farm, or misrepresent themselves on an employment application to hide their intended misconduct or purpose. The new law also penalizes organizations or persons who aid or abet someone who misrepresented facts to gain access to a crop or livestock farm.
Farm Bureau, the Iowa Corn Growers Association and other ag groups wanted the 2012 legislature to approve a bill that would have increased the state's motor fuel tax. That legislation did not pass. Leaders of Farm Bureau and the other groups say they will continue lobbying the legislature in the year ahead to work toward improving Iowa's infrastructure—repairing and upgrading the state's roads and bridges—an issue that was discussed at length but was not addressed by this year's legislature.
Farm Bureau to continue push for increase in state gas tax to repair roads
"Many of Iowa's roads and bridges are in need of significant structural improvements, and our state continues to fall further behind in this area every year because those repairs aren't being made," says Hill. "We need a good transportation system in this state—good farm to market roads. And safe roads for school busses and other transportation uses. Clearly, this problem will not go away without additional funding. Farm Bureau members have identified a fuel tax increase as the most equitable, feasible funding method to raise the much needed money to fix this problem."