Heading into the New Year and new decade, several key issues remain at the top of the priority list for Kansas farmers and ranchers. Health care, climate and environment, animal agriculture, balancing the federal budget and ag sales tax exemptions remain among the most important.
Health care is on everyone?s minds today. Most Kansans and their fellow Americans are either adamantly for or against proposed health-care changes. This has ignited a national debate with a passion and fervor rarely seen on legislative issues.
The health-care issue is personal for every American. It carries two overreaching factors important to ag producers and rural America?reducing health care costs and improving rural access.
To help ease the burden on producers and rural America, tax credits could help the self-employed purchase health insurance. This would also allow farm and ranch employers affordable insurance for their employees.
Mandating that individuals purchase health insurance will only work for rural America if costs are brought under control and if tax credits are generous enough to make insurance affordable.
Turning to the climate and environment, most farmers and ranchers oppose cap and trade climate legislation because it would raise their production costs. The potential costs of such legislation are far greater than any benefit to producers.
Congress must focus on renewable energy that is far better for the environment and this nation?s domestic energy security. It should not tie the hands of U.S. producers whose productivity provides the world?s food.
In the livestock arena, producers have already waded through several years of lean prices for their animals. These producers cannot withstand the mounting pressure to restrict the use of antibiotics because some believe the use of such drugs result in disease-resistant strains.
Anti-animal agriculture activists continue to attack livestock producers at the state level after being defeated by organized groups in Ohio. The Humane Society of the United States will propose ballot indicatives in Missouri this year.
Like so many segments of our society, Kansas farmers and ranchers believe it?s time for government to live within its means. Simply put, don?t spend money you don?t have.
Ag producers who belong to Farm Bureau in Kansas recently called for a reduction in the federal deficit each year?reaching a fully balanced budget by 2019. Government services and entitlements must be reduced.
Farmers and ranchers would also like to see meaningful relief from the estate tax, with no conditions or qualifications. They want to see an overall exemption. They also support full stepped-up basis at the time of death in order to reduce the capital gains tax burden on farm and ranch heirs.
Expanded world trade remains a key for prosperity in farm country. Movement on pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and Peru would be a step in the right direction.
Trade with Cuba could be another bright spot. There is growing interest, led in part by Kansas Congressman Jerry Moran, to ease travel restrictions and promote broader trade in commodities and other goods to Cuba.
The state budget and tax policy will be the main focus during the 2010 Kansas legislative session. Lawmakers will look for any way possible to balance the budget, including tax and fee increases. This could impact agriculture in these ways:
? Ag sales-tax exemptions mostly apply to ingredient/component parts or farm machinery essential to production. Elimination would significantly hurt ag producers and place Kansas at a competitive disadvantage to producers in neighboring states.
? Dedicated program fees are collected by certain participants of an industry to fund regulatory programs specific to those that pay the fee (license, inspection, registration).
Often these programs have a statewide benefit far beyond those paying the fee. In tough economic times, the legislature often ?sweeps? these fees to fund other areas of state government. This tax increase would not be affordable.
? Property tax increases disproportionately affect landowners who are particularly concerned with the steady creep of increased local pption budget authority to fund schools.
Buckle up. 2010 will be a bumpy ride.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.