Farm tax credits spared by Doyle
Program gives state income tax credit for keeping land
By Antoinette Rahn
Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune
MILLADORE - Gov. Jim Doyle's pen struck again, this time
in the name of small family farms.
Flanked by the towering silos and barn of John and Deb
Bulgrin's farmstead, Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton announced
that Doyle would use his line-item veto power to restore
the farmland preservation program, salvaging a $23 million
tax credit for farmers.
The program, which gives state income tax credit to about
20,000 Wisconsin farmers who commit to keeping land in
agriculture, was eliminated in the budget bill approved
last month by the Legislature.
"The average credit to each family (in 2002) was
nearly $800, but there's always a ripple affect when something
happens to a single farm here because they are so deeply
connected in the rural economy," Lawton said Wednesday.
"One in five jobs is connected to this."
Lawton said the governor also will sign a law to reduce
assessment for agriculture woodlands and wetlands.
Growing up on the 82-year old farm built by his grandfather,
John Bulgrin has seen the decline of family farms - including
much of his rural neighborhood - and the rise of large-scale
operations. In turn, the father of four has had to expand
his custom farming business to balance out the dairy end
of his business.
"We milk 70 head a day; when I started farming for
myself in 1971, 70 cows was a lot," Bulgrin said.
"That's pretty small compared to today's farms with
Bulgrin said the cost of doing business has gone up while
the profits have remained about the same. For example,
he could buy the head of a combine tractor for the same
price an entire unit cost 30 years ago. And, he's making
the same amount for milk now as when he first started
out. That's why he thinks the legislation is invaluable.
"It's great for raising a family," he said.
"We all work together here, my wife, the kids and
Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Plover, was encouraged by the week's
events. Earlier in the week, Doyle vowed to veto cuts
to 4-year-old kindergarten and the SAGE program. On Wednesday,
Doyle said he will veto a plan for distributing the state
aid local governments use to pay for services like police
and fire protection. He also said he also will veto cap
cuts in shared revenue to no more than 15 percent for
"I'm happy with the priorities the governor's set
thus far, but I know we are all very interested to find
out what other vetoes he has," she said.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated property
taxes could increase as much as 9.4 percent as local governments
and schools try to make up the cuts Doyle had proposed
in his version of the budget in February. The agency estimates
the average property tax bill would increase 1 percent
in December under the Legislature's plan.
Overriding Doyle's veto would require a two-thirds vote
by members in both houses of the Legislature. Republicans
control the Assembly 58-39 and the Senate 18-15. It would
require 66 votes in the Assembly and 22 in the Senate
to override a Doyle veto.
The Legislature approved a $48.9 billion budget for the
two years that began July 1.
Taxes on farmland are currently assessed based on use
rather than the potential for development. But woods,
wetlands and other nontillable land on farms are not eligible
for similar assessment under current law, so municipalities
assess that land at market value.
Doyle said the assessments on swamp and waste land increased
600 percent between 1996 and 2002, while the value of
forestland increased 200 percent.
The change would dramatically reduce farmers' property
"Woodland preservation will mean less in taxes for
me," said Richfields' Bob Reigel, 72. "I've
got 500 acres (about 200 of woodland) at my place and
we have a lot of woods and the Beaver Creek and Yellow
River that run through it, and I can't touch it, so I
pay huge taxes for something I can't use. Hopefully, this
will lower my taxes back to a normal level."