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Farm tax credits spared by Doyle
Program gives state income tax credit for keeping land in agriculture
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 200 head."

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 I."

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 each municipality.

"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 tax bills.

"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."

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