WASHINGTON — During their annual trip to Capitol Hill March 5-7, Ohio Farm Bureau presidents were relentless in their efforts to tell legislators just what they thought of issues facing America’s farmers.
One item that has been at the top of the presidents’ agenda for several years has been the estate tax, or death tax.
Current estate tax
This year (2012), there is a cap at $5 million, but in 2013 the cap dwindles to $1 million. This drop could put many farms in jeopardy of staying a farm or even in the family, opponents say.
The county presidents told legislators over and over how many family farms could easily reach over the $1 million cap when you consider land, buildings and equipment. They said the death tax will cause the next generation to sell farm assets in order to pay the taxes.
The group members told legislators to consider abolishing the estate tax but the Ohio farm leaders understand that probably won’t happen and pushed legislators to restore the death tax up to $5 million.
In the real world
John Davis, Carroll County OFBF president, said he is aware of one farm in Carroll County where the family was forced to sell one of the three properties they owned so they could keep the other two.
He also told U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown that he is especially concerned in Carroll County with the discovery of the shale, and what potential wealth could mean when considered with the estate tax.
Davis told the group and Brown the gas wells may put many family farms over the limit, and it’s a situation many landowners couldn’t have planned for five years ago.
Brown said he would be in favor of an exemption for family farms when it comes to the estate tax, but he doesn’t agree with the total elimination of the tax.
“I absolutely want to protect family farms and small businesses,” said Brown.
Brown said he thinks the estate law needs to stay, but feels a compromise will be reached between $1 million and $5 million.
Rep. Bob Latta, R-5th, agrees something should be done about the estate tax, and said he supports at least keeping it at a higher rate, if not ending it.
“This truly affects families staying on the farm,” Latta said.
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6th, said he would like Congress to eliminate the estate tax and fully supports the abolishment of it in Ohio.
Farm bill on their minds
The OFBF county presidents also aired questions and concerns about the 2012 farm bill.
While Johnson said his intent is to get a farm bill constructed and passed this year, others legislators didn’t seem to think one could be completed by the end of the year due to politics in an election year.
“I can tell you our intent is the normal order. First, to construct a budget and then the appropriations to match the budget,” Johnson said.
Brown told the group that, in his opinion, “direct payments” are history. The county leaders responded that they understand the desire to eliminate direct payments, but would like Congress to create some kind of safety net for farmers in the farm bill. They hope crop insurance will continue, but they understand that comes with a cost.
The county presidents also talked about the Utica shale in individual meetings with their elected officials.
Johnson told the group he feels it is going to be a good thing for the state.
“As shale business begins to unfold, you are going to see more and more pressure on the administration to get out of the way because of business opportunities,” he said.
He wants to see a common sense approach to all types of energy policy.
“The last thing we need is for the department of interior and the EPA to get involved in something that Ohio regulators and ODNR have been regulating for decades,” Johnson said as he talked about fracking the Utica shale.
Brown said the shale will bring wealth to landowners and other benefits, but he is concerned about protecting the water table.
One subject that was the most talked about was a proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor, click here for more about it.