Last updated on 2013.01.08
According to Bob Mercer's reports, the Legislature's Ag Land Assessment Tax Force spent its time Monday hearing concerns about trees and conservation and then taking a swipe at those concerns.
The committee heard that South Dakota's potential-income tax on farmers is driving them to tear up shelterbelts and plow up more land for crops:
Trees and shelter belts are being ripped out in parts of eastern South Dakota as land owners seek bigger yields of crops from their properties.
...Spink County Commission member Jeff Albrecht of Doland told the task force Monday that high demand and high prices have led farmers to work more ground.
"You look around Spink County and see acres and acres of land torn up to put crop in," he said.
...Sen. Larry Rhoden, the task force's chairman, said Monday marked the first time he's heard that keeping trees was a concern.
Rhoden, R-Union Center, agreed that agricultural practices are changing. He said he's seeing more crops being planted farther west of the Missouri River in what previously was grazing country.
Lyle Perman, a producer from the Lowry area of Walworth County... said the soils-rating system that is the starting point used by county directors of equalization for assessing land values is a tax policy that is leading some producers to shift more ground into crops.
The system is based on a parcel's potential to produce [Bob Mercer, "Tax Policy to Reward Tree Claims Considered," Aberdeen American News, September 18, 2012].
Yet the task force recommends weakening one of the best tools that landowners have to protect shelterbelts, native prairie, and other land that shouldn't be farmed: conservation easements:
The state's advisory task force on agricultural land assessment made two recommendations Monday for the Legislature to consider in the 2013 session.
One would limit to 30 years the duration of conservation easements reached in the future.
...The 30-year cap came from the panel's chairman, Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center [Bob Mercer, "Ag-Land Assessment Task Force Recommends Changes," Aberdeen American News, September 18, 2012].
Senator Rhoden backed a 30-year cap on conservation easements during the 2012 session when he co-sponsored Rep. Betty Olson's anti-conservationist HB 1087. Senator Rhoden apparently expects that doing the same thing over and over will get different results from the 2012 House, which killed that bill on a 22-to-45 vote.
As I noted last winter, limiting property rights in this fashion seems fundamentally un-Republican. Telling landowners they can't establish permanent easements calls into question the viability of perpetual easements for projects like the Keystone XL pipeline as well as perpetual trusts for financial assets.
The financial pressure created by South Dakota's complicated and ill-conceived potential-income tax on farmers is putting shelterbelts and other conservation practices at risk. We need strong conservation easements to protect the land from that pressure.
Either that, or just reform the ag assessment tax to a simple, fair, straight-up income tax.