By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson
I was pleased to attend the first meeting of the Incentives for Agriculture Task Force on my birthday no less on November 15. It was an organizational meeting where members were able to get to know each other and lay out some plans we had for the task force. I came away optimistic that we are already well on our way to making serious strides for our farming and agricultural community.
I was also honored to be nominated to chair this task force along with my good friend Delegate Rudy Cane of the Eastern Shore. Since we both represent agricultural areas and have long advocated for this community, I believe we both will make a good team along with all of the members which features a cross-section of agricultural and environmental experts.
The Incentives for Agriculture Task Force was established by the Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006. This law came about because of another task force I sat on with members such as Finance Chairman Thomas McLain Middleton (D-Charles) which was created by Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch—The Agricultural Stewardship Commission.
The Incentives for Agriculture Task Force is changed, by law, to do the following:
1) Review the final recommendations and report of the Agricultural Stewardship Commission released in January 2006.
2) Review and evaluate the overall State tax structure as it impact agriculture and the feasibility of modifications or alternatives to the current structure that would enhance the profitability of farming, including recommendations regarding:
(i) a reduction or elimination of the State inheritance and estate taxes for agricultural property and enterprises;
(ii) a reduction or elimination of the State inheritance and capital gains tax on the sale of development rights related to agricultural property;
(iii) an increase in the amount of the employer tax exemption applied to agricultural enterprises;
(iv) a reduction or elimination of the amusement tax for agro-tourism enterprises;
(v) the creation of tax credits or exemptions applicable to the production of ethanol, bio-diesel or other bio-energy alternatives;
(vi) the various methods used by local governments to assess the value of real property used for agriculture;
(vii) the existing tax incentives related to land conservation and preservation programs in the State, including the tax credit for preservation easements;
(viii) any other option considered appropriate by the Task Force.
3) Identify any modifications to the current State tax structure that would help farmers to be better stewards of the land while maintaining the economic viability of farming in the State including tax incentives for the utilization of best management practices associated with the improvement of water quality.
These are lofty goals, but ones I believe the task force can achieve. Our farmers need and deserve tax relief. They do a great service for our State and are often not appreciated enough. It is also vital that we keep our farmland vibrant so we can preserve it in key areas where otherwise growth would occur.
In a recent conversation with Governor-elect Martin OMalley, the first thing I told him is that we need to work closer with our farming and agriculture community. I was pleased that he immediately agreed with me.
I am also pleased that the task forces staff is comprised of budget and environmental experts from the non-partisan Department of Legislative Service who will guide members on how best to implement these goals.
This is a win-win situation for our agricultural community and I am looking forward to further meetings one of which will likely meet in mid-December. I will continue to update you on the developments of this task force in future columns.