Ag industry is South Dakota’s golden goose | TSLN.com

Ag industry is South Dakota’s golden goose

S.D. Senator Billie Sutton
Democratic Leader

Agriculture has been a golden goose for South Dakota state government, and I don't think our farmers and ranchers get the appreciation they deserve. Instead, too many folks in Pierre just seem to be looking everywhere for more golden eggs.

The strong ag economy lifted us through the recent "great recession" when other state governments struggled mightily. Now farm prices have softened and our state's tax revenues have followed suit.

And how do the powers-that-be in Pierre react? With more ideas on how to increase taxes on agriculture or shift education costs onto property taxpayers in general.

It all reminds me of the fiasco a few years ago when the administration sought to tax straw and bedding. Many have also suggested removal of tax exemptions on seeds, fertilizers and other inputs.

Agriculture, like every industry, goes through highs and lows. We shouldn't overload our agricultural friends with taxes in good times, because any student of South Dakota history knows that tough times are probably on the horizon. Such is the boom/bust cycle of raising livestock and crops.

Instead, we should apply fairness principles when we make tax policy — not only for agriculture but for every industry. Here are some of those principles that need to be weighed this session that affect our farm and ranch friends:

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* Should grasslands be taxed based on their "actual use" or as cropland if the soils are deemed of good enough quality to be planted into crops? Some seem to think the current system is fine as SB 4 failed, which would have simply proposed a study of actual use. I strongly believe that our land should be taxed based on what we are actually using it for.

* Should dyed diesel be part of the revenue stream to fix our roads and bridges, or should it continue to be tax-free because it's used in machinery that seldom travel the roads? Some in Pierre think it should be taxed, but I would tend to disagree.

* How much should property owners pay to fix the roads and bridges? Especially ag property owners? SB 1, the Roads and Bridges bill, could be a huge tax increase to property tax payers.

* Should more of our schools' general fund needs be shifted to property taxes? That's a recent trend in Pierre that I haven't liked.

* Should we revise our wind energy tax system to encourage more energy development? Apparently our tax system is hindering wind projects, which offer great potential for supplemental income in some areas of rural South Dakota. SB 180 would change our wind energy tax structure to make it much more fair.

We should never take our family farm and ranch culture of South Dakota for granted. It didn't grow by accident. Much sweat and sacrifice went into building a way of life that makes us very unique in South Dakota.

I and my fellow Democratic lawmakers have a great appreciation for our friends and neighbors in agriculture. I grew up on a ranch near Burke and I am still involved in raising cattle. So are many of my colleagues. Together let's work to keep ranching and farming strong and viable for future generations.