By John Collison, OKFB vice president of public policy
After eight years of fighting off overreach from the federal government, November brought a new era for farmers and ranchers. Under the Donald Trump administration, we now have allies – rather than adversaries – in Washington. The nominations of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for EPA administrator and Sonny Perdue for Secretary of Agriculture give the agricultural community a seat at the table in policy discussions.
The changes in Washington are positive, no doubt, but the challenges Oklahoma faces as a state are undeniable. Facing a nearly $900 million budget shortfall, state revenue problems again will cast an overwhelming shadow on this year’s session. Everything from farming exemptions to ad valorem tax increases and expansions are being talked about as lawmakers tackle the extreme budget crisis.
As our state again encounters a huge budget deficit, it seems we no longer have a spending problem but a revenue problem. Lawmakers will continue to seek revenue through tax increases, all while Oklahoma sits on a vast resource: water. How can we best utilize our most precious resource? OKFB has talked about it in the past and this year will continue the discussion.
AD VALOREM TAXES
Several bills have been filed concerning ad valorem tax increases, as cities and towns look for alternative sources of funding. Maybe cities and towns have a spending problem, rather than a revenue problem? The purpose of ad valorem tax is not to raise revenue for cities and towns. Municipalities, along with many other entities in Oklahoma must evaluate their spending habits, and look to the available and intended revenue in order to pay their bills.
For years, farmers and ranchers have enjoyed a sales tax exemption on the purchase of inputs like feed, seed and fertilizer. We have defended the exemption for years, but now expect it to be on the table in budget considerations. Lawmakers must understand the importance of the sales tax exemption on the production of food and fiber in Oklahoma; we will make every effort to educate them on this issue.
Outside of the budget crisis, education and teacher salaries are one of the biggest topics of conversation. Following the defeat of SQ 779, many legislators have proposed various versions of teacher pay raises. While education traditionally has not been an OKFB policy priority, our Farm Bureau families have students in all 77 counties in both urban and rural school districts. Our membership this year made a point to bring up the education discussion at annual policymaking events and have expressed a vested interest in this topic.
Though we face many uphill battles this year, our presence at the state Capitol is stronger than ever. We were pleased to watch the election of three members of the Farm Bureau family – Sen. Chris Kidd, Sen. Lonnie Paxton and Sen. Roland Pederson – into the Oklahoma State Senate. We know each will represent the interests of agriculture and rural Oklahoma well. We’re also excited to work alongside more than 30 members of the OKFB Caucus, a new organization for Farm Bureau members in the state Legislature.
As always, your participation in the legislative process is vital. This year, we’ve implemented a new legislative action alert system which allows you to easily contact your legislators when needed. We encourage you to sign up by texting JOIN to 405-400-0311 or by visiting the OKAgPolicy Action Center.