Disregard for Taxpayers Apparent in SCC Board Action

Steve Nelson1By Steve Nelson, farmer from Axtell, Nebraska and Nebraska Farm Bureau president

 

Can you hear me now? You’ll recall that catchphrase from the popular Verizon ad campaign promoting the company’s prowess in ensuring cell phone customers could connect from virtually anywhere. If only the Southeast Community College’s (SCC) Board of Governors had such a reliable network.

Last November, taxpayers from across the 15-county SCC area sent a message to SCC. It was loud and clear. It came in the form of voters overwhelmingly defeating a $369 million SCC bond measure with nearly 70 percent of the vote. The voters message; show restraint, don’t push massive property tax increases that we can’t afford. Despite the clarity of the message, it apparently never got through, or worse, was ignored by the SCC Board of Governors.

Despite the call for being cautious in taking more taxpayers dollars, in late September the SCC Board acted to increase their tax levy. Instead of a slight increase, the Board opted to take the maximum allowable levy authorized by the state for building construction. The Board’s action will effectively raise property taxes on SCC taxpayers and, in the process, appears to show complete disregard for the message sent by voters.

Partners in the Vote NO 369 coalition, which formed in opposition to SCC’s bond, had warned voters leading up to election day that passing the bond measure was too risky, given that should the bond pass SCC would still have the ability to raise their property taxes even more, by using the building construction levy authority.

Less than 12 months from the vote of the people, that’s exactly what the SCC’s Board of Governors did, pushing forward with their plans, and in the process showing how determined SCC was to take more taxpayer money and how easy it is to ignore the wishes of those who have to fund SCC expansion.

As a partner in the Vote NO 369 coalition, we’ve received numerous calls from angry taxpayers outraged by the SCC’s Board action. They believed, like so many others, that SCC should have gotten the message last fall. Their concerns are well founded. If a 2-1 vote against boosting taxes won’t get their attention, what will?

The smart move, and what we are encouraging the SCC Board to do, is to reconsider their action. While the heart of the matter is about the money, in the vein that SCC is intentionally and actively taking more from those who’ve signaled they aren’t ready to give it, the reality is SCC is breaking public trust, a trust that when taxpayers speak, the public entities accountable to them will listen.

We understand the SCC Board has a responsibility to juggle the needs of students and taxpayers. But we also know that strong public and private relationships are important for building educational opportunities; that includes having a relationship with taxpayers. There’s no denying SCC and the other community colleges have an important role to play in helping grow Nebraska. To keep those relationships strong, SCC’s Board would be best suited over the long-run in taking a step back at this time and recognize the needs of taxpayers. After failing to respond to their initial message, taxpayers across the area are wanting SCC to demonstrate they heard the message so they can stop asking, “Can you hear me now?”

Northeast Nebraska Counties Lead the State . . .

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As was the case in 2016, counties in northeast Nebraska had the highest average cash rental rates for agricultural ground in 2017.  Dixon County had the top average rental rate for irrigated ground in 2017 at $312/acre, surpassing Cedar County by $1/acre.  Last year Cedar County topped all Nebraska counties with a cash rent of $324/acre on irrigated land.   Knox, Wayne, Cuming and Platte Counties all had irrigated cash rents above $280 per acre in 2017.  Counties in Northeast Nebraska also led the state in cash rents on non-irrigated land in 2017.  Dakota County led the way at $266/acre, $5/acre less than last year, followed by Cuming, Thurston, Cedar and Wayne Counties.  Pierce and Cuming Counties had the highest 2017 rents for pasture ground at $73/acre.

The maps in the slideshow below, provided in a recent CropWatch released by the UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, provides average cash rental rates for irrigated cropland, non-irrigated cropland, and pasture ground across the state. The data comes from surveys of Nebraska farmers and ranchers by the USDA-NASS.

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Jay RempeJay Rempe is the senior economist for Nebraska Farm Bureau. Rempe’s background in agricultural economics, years of experience in advocating at the state capitol, and firm grasp of issues allow him to quantify the fiscal impact of a regulatory proposal, and provide in-depth examination of key issues affecting Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers.

Federal tax reform-a first impression . . .

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The Trump Administration, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee announced last week they have agreed to a unified framework for federal tax reform.  The framework outlines several tax proposals for both business and individual filers.  Many details remain to be filled in, and legislation needs to be written, but the unified framework does provide some guidance for farmers and ranchers on issues they should monitor as the tax discussion evolves.

Most farm and ranch operations in Nebraska file federal taxes as individuals (Form 1040).  The 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture reported that 85 percent of Nebraska farms claimed the legal status of a family or individual for tax purposes.  The average annual federal income tax after credits reported on returns filed by Nebraska farm sole proprietors was $443 million for 2009-2015 according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data (2013 was not included as data was not readily available).  The average annual effective rate of taxation on farm returns over this period was 14 percent, which was two percentage points higher than the effective rate for all Nebraska individual returns over the same period.

For individual filers, the unified framework proposes to double the standard deduction, consolidate tax brackets from seven to three, lower the top rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, eliminate itemized deductions except for mortgage interest and charitable deductions, repeal personal exemptions for dependents but increase the child tax credit, and repeal the alternative minimum tax.  So, what are the tax implications for farmers and ranchers?

Like most Nebraskans, most producers claim the standard deduction on their individual returns.  In 2015, according to IRS, 72 percent of Nebraska farm returns claimed the standard deduction.  Thus, doubling the standard deduction has the potential to reduce taxes for these filers subject to other changes in tax brackets and rates, which are not known now.  For producers who itemize, total Schedule A deductions amounted to $196 million in 2015, excluding home mortgage and charitable contributions.  Losing these deductions, and what it means in ultimate taxes paid, will depend on individual filer’s amount of itemized deductions relative to the increase in the standard deduction, and ultimately, the changes in tax brackets and rates.  The proposals addressing the child tax credit and repealing the alternative minimum tax will have little impact on farm and ranch taxes.  Combined, the two provisions amounted to $23 million for farm tax filers in 2015, or 0.7 percent of reported adjusted gross income that year.

At this point, because all the details on tax brackets and rates are not known, the implications of federal tax reform for farmers and ranchers are difficult to grasp.  The changes to business taxes will also have implications for farm and ranch operations.  Future Tidbits will highlight provisions in the unified framework for businesses and other taxes that might impact farmers and ranchers.  Tidbits will also return to the topic of changes for individual filers when more is known on changes to brackets and tax rates.

 

Jay RempeJay Rempe is the senior economist for Nebraska Farm Bureau. Rempe’s background in agricultural economics, years of experience in advocating at the state capitol, and firm grasp of issues allow him to quantify the fiscal impact of a regulatory proposal, and provide in-depth examination of key issues affecting Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers.

Property Tax Credit Averages $2.28 per Acre . . .

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The property tax credit for 2017 under the Property Tax Credit Act will reduce taxes on agricultural land an average $2.28 per acre.  To put the figure into context, property taxes levied on agricultural land for 2016 averaged $26.07 per acre.  The total amount of tax credit provided to agricultural land owners for 2017 will equal almost $105 million, or 8.7 percent of the total taxes paid in 2016.  In other words, without the credit, property taxes paid on agricultural on agricultural land for 2017 would be 8.7 percent higher.
The total credit amount for all real property owners will equal $224 million, an increase of $20 million over the previous year as provided in LB 958 passed in 2016.  LB 958 also provided that additional weight be given to agricultural land in distributing the credit monies.  In absolute dollar terms, Custer County agricultural property owners will receive the most credit at just over $2.95 million, followed by Holt County and Platte County property owners.  In percentage terms, the credit provided to Keya Paha County agricultural property owners will equal 14.6 percent of 2016 taxes paid, 13.6 percent for Loup County owners, and 13.2 percent for Wheeler County owners.   The map below plots the credit as a percentage of 2016 taxes paid on agricultural land in each county.  The more yellow or red the county spot, the greater the percentage.  For exact figures for each county, click here.
 

Prop Tax Credit 9-26-17

Source: Nebraska Department of Revenue

 

 

Jay RempeJay Rempe is the senior economist for Nebraska Farm Bureau. Rempe’s background in agricultural economics, years of experience in advocating at the state capitol, and firm grasp of issues allow him to quantify the fiscal impact of a regulatory proposal, and provide in-depth examination of key issues affecting Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers.

Mandarin Orange Salad

Mandarin Orange DessertIngredients

3 egg whites

1 cup white sugar

½ cup rice cereal, rolled fine, then measured

½ cup chopped pecans

2 cans mandarin oranges

2 8-ounce cartons of whipped topping

3 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding

¾ cup coconut

2 tablespoons toasted coconut (optional)

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325º.
  2. In a medium grease-free bowl, begin whipping the egg whites. During the beating, gradually add the 1 cup of sugar.  Beat until stiff peaks form.
  3. Fold in the cereal crumbs and chopped nuts.
  4. Spread the mixture in the bottom of a greased 9”x13” baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes.
  5. Drain the oranges and reserve 15 orange sections.
  6. Transfer the whipped topping into a medium-sized bowl. Fold in the dry pudding and coconut.  Add the oranges and gently combine.
  7. Spread this mixture over the baked crust. Sprinkle toasted coconut over the top (optional).  Arrange the orange slices over the top.
  8. Chill for several hours before serving.

 

Yield:  15 servings

The Joys of September

Corn harvest in Illinois - SeptemberWhen it comes to Nebraska I love it when we get to September. From the cooler, crisper weather, to the shorter days and longer nights, to the promise of crops almost ready for harvest, September is a favorite time for me. September is also well known as the end of summer and the beginning of fall and while there are many other times of the year I enjoy, there is just something about September that grabs me every year.

Besides the reasons above, maybe it is because I can see the end of the year coming and I know that after all the hard work of the spring and summer our time is short until Mother Nature sends us another blast of Nebraska winter. September can be so much better than the heat of summer or the cold of winter, and in the Green Industry the return of September also brings with it being able to stop fighting the heat and being able to enjoy our work outside. Moreover, while fall isn’t truly with us until we reach Friday September 22nd, there is so much we can do in our yards, gardens, and landscapes in September and on into the fall.

img_8349To me, and many of my fellow green industry professionals, fall is a great time for planting in our landscapes. While there are many who think the best time to plant in the landscape is in spring I actually prefer to install new plants in the late summer to early fall. The moderation of Mother Nature’s extremes offers us a wonderful time to plant, harvest, maintain and encourage our gardens and landscapes to even better levels. Mother Nature usually offers a bit of rain and nice lingering warmth to give our new plants a perfect chance to settle into place before winter blows into town. I also know how busy my schedule gets each spring. By planting in the fall, as soon as Mother Nature decides to warm up next spring my fall installed plants can “wake up” and begin growing before I even have time to think about planting.

And when talking about fall planting I always think we should mention a few plants that offer gorgeous fall color so our landscapes have interest all growing season long versus just spring and summer. For perennials consider the Sedums, Hardy Hibiscus, Goldenrod, and ornamental grasses. If you are looking for something more sizable consider varieties of Burning Bush, Althea (Rose of Sharon), Ninebark, Sumac, & Viburnum. And when it comes to trees I find the bright reds and oranges a wonderful choice versus the yellows of our many native tree varieties so consider Maple and Oak varieties.

Fall is also a wonderful time to experience beautiful color through the planting of fall blooming Mums and Asters. Whether you are changing out your summer annual beds or a few pots on the patio, to pockets of them mixed into your landscape beds, Mums and Asters are some of the most colorful plants in the landscape each fall. They are also able to withstand some cooler weather prolonging your enjoyment usually well through October or longer depending on Mother Nature. In most cases wait to transition your annual areas to Mums and Asters to when we start getting a bit cooler toward the middle to end of September. And don’t forget that with cooler weather you could plant another crop of pansies or other frost tolerant annuals.

TulipsAnd before we move on no discussion of fall planting would be complete without talking about spring flowering bulbs. Many feel spring is really here when we see the spring flowering bulbs poke their bright colorful blooms out of the ground at the start of spring. But to enjoy your own spring bulbs you need to install them this fall. Try to mix your colors and bulbs here and there through your landscape in areas that will receive southern or western sun for best results. Spring flowering bulb planting is almost fool proof and gives such a colorful return on a simple investment of your time.

Finally, as you read this we are nearing the end of the best time to do turf grass seeding. We generally recommend mid August to mid September as the best time to seed but typically you should be fine as long as you seed before the end of September. Remember to properly prepare the areas, sow good quality seed, and utilize a covering material like peat moss, compost, or straw to keep the new seed moist through germination. Then once your young grass has germinated let it get a bit shaggy before mowing and try to get at least three or four mowings on the new grass before winter hits to help harden it off.

September and the return of the fall can be such an amazing time to enjoy in Nebraska. Whether it is enjoying the change in the weather, accomplishing some tasks around your landscape, or maybe being a spectator at a Husker game, September can be such a great time in Nebraska. It certainly is one of my favorites.

 

Andy Campbell is manager of Campbell’s Nurseries Landscape Department. A Lancaster County Farm Bureau Member, Campbell’s, a family owned Nebraska business since 1912, offers assistance for all your landscaping and gardening needs at either of their two Lincoln garden centers or through their landscape design office. www.campbellsnursery.com.

It’s Official-Nebraska Farm Income Dropped for 2016 . . .

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The USDA Economic Research Service on August 30 released its official estimate of Nebraska net farm income for 2016.  The official estimate, $3.78 billion, is nearly $1 billion less than net farm income earned for 2015, and off almost 50 percent from net farm income reported for 2011.

farm income

In fact, 2016 net farm income is just slightly higher than the amount earned for 2010.  A decline in livestock receipts, about $2.1 billion, was the primary reason for the drop in net farm income.  Cash crop receipts were off slightly, but almost equal to that received in 2015.  Farm expenses were down also which helped compensate for the loss of revenue.

The cost of livestock purchases was down $1.7 billion, due to lower cattle prices, and fertilizer and insurance costs were also lower.  It was the third consecutive year net farm income declined in Nebraska, and unfortunately the most recent University of Nebraska estimate suggests 2017 net farm income will be down for a fourth consecutive year.

 

Jay RempeJay Rempe is the senior economist for Nebraska Farm Bureau. Rempe’s background in agricultural economics, years of experience in advocating at the state capitol, and firm grasp of issues allow him to quantify the fiscal impact of a regulatory proposal, and provide in-depth examination of key issues affecting Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers.