SDSGA: state issues recap and preview
October 26, 2014
During the South Dakota Stockgrower Association's (SDSGA) 123rd annual meeting Sept. 26-27, organization lobbyist Jeremiah Murphy provided an update on past, present and future legislative issues of importance to members.
"One big issue we're going to have in the coming session will be the road issue. The bottom line is that, in terms of cost, if the federal finances for roads stay the same, which is not guaranteed, it is estimated that an additional $143 million dollars will be needed over the next 10 years to keep roads where they need to be. That's a big figure for South Dakota. In discussing how to raise that money, it has been an open field, including talks on increasing the gas tax, dyed diesel tax or taxing ag lands by an additional 20 cents per evaluation – the common thread being that virtually every option hits the ag producer," began Murphy of a major foreseeable issue.
He continued, urging the SDSGA to consider and develop policy that would point toward a solution that fits the problem and enables him to firmly address the issue in Pierre in 2015.
"Increasing the gas tax is another aspect of the same issue. While this government has been firm to-date in its electoral pledge of no new taxes or tax increases, Daugaard has said the gas tax is set at pennies on the gallon, and was set 20 or more years ago, which has not allowed for inflation, so to change the rate wouldn't be a true tax increase," noted Murphy.
He added that again, such an increase would be most felt by the ag sector, and is concerning as it could potentially open the floodgates to a surge of tax increases once the legislative body gets a taste of increased dollars.
"I feel we also need to be ready to play defense on the property tax issue as I expect there will be people wanting to take away the ag exemption. My response will continue to be that we should take away that exemption at the same time we remove the retailer's tax exemption on price of goods," said Murphy.
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Transitioning into results from the 2014 legislative session pertinent to producers, Murphy stated that topping the list of success stories was the reasonable approach to the animal cruelty bill.
"What the producer should keep in mind about that law is it does not affect the activities you as an agriculture producer engage in one iota. There have been whispers that those who brought the bill are already looking at tweaking it, which disappoints but does not surprise me. The thing we have in our favor is legislative fatigue regarding this topic. We will keep an eye on it, but predict an unfriendly environment for anyone wanting to make revisions to that topic for quite some time," explained Murphy.
Another top priority issue from the 2014 session that was not completed dealt with a hunting trespass loophole that enabled trespassing across one private landowner to reach a separate, privately held piece of land.
"We ran into a snag with some landowners whose land is an island surrounded by neighbors who have not granted them access or an easement. As the bill was written they could be guilty of trespassing just in traveling to their own land," explained Murphy, adding that work is ongoing to resolve that problem and bring the topic back for discussion in 2015.
Designation of meandering versus non-meandering waters also remained unresolved in 2014, and is of particular importance to landowners in northeastern South Dakota, who potentially face losing private property rights should the bill pass in 2015 as currently written.
"We also continued discussions of actual use last session, and the revenue department is essentially stating that if you convert use of croplands into grasslands you'll create a $3 billion shift in property evaluation. That is a truly scary number to the legislator, and immediately means game over.
"Our problem with that number is first that it's not the net number, and second that it only shows what happens if you convert one way. It doesn't show what happens if you take land currently under grassland classification and convert it to cropland," noted Murphy.
All state agriculture entities are currently working together in their support of additional research and data that would complete the picture on the issue. Discussion of how the additional research will be funded is expected to begin at the Ag Land Evaluation Committee Meeting on Oct. 27.
"Right now this is a challenge, but we're going to persist in it and I will continue to provide updates as they become available," noted Murphy.
In conclusion, Murphy said risks already posed for agriculture in the 2015 legislation session will keep him busy in upcoming months. He reiterated his encouragement that producers pay attention as topics and bills are developed, and vocalized their concerns, particularly regarding a potentially increased tax burden placed primarily on the farmer and rancher.
"Other lobbyists and myself are concerned that if taxes go up in one area it will be like drinking whisky – the second and third rounds will come much easier once they get loosened up," he said.