Staff spotlight: Erin’s journey brought her from the Sunshine State to small-town living

Many Nebraskans long for a break from the harsh, Plains winters, and travel to warm, sunny climates to find it. Erin Mockler, however, did the opposite.

“I grew up in a small town in Florida,” said Mockler. “My entire childhood, I had a desire to move to a climate with more seasonal changes, so when I became an adult, I moved to Nebraska.”

And, we’re glad she did.

One of the newest members of the Center for Rural Affairs team, Mockler is a staff accountant. She lives in Lyons and works from the Center’s main office, and is happy about her new, more rural, home.

“I love the small-town community,” said Mockler. “I believe it’s in rural areas where the important work is being done, quietly and without fanfare; it is up to all of us to preserve the land and lifestyle here for future generations.”

Mockler began her new role by shadowing the accounting staff to learn the ropes on payables, payroll, and bank reconciliations. She has also been tasked with projects such as researching Employee Assistance Programs and expense reporting software, updating a couple procedures, and learning more about grants. She says she plans to work on even more projects in the future.  

“I’d like to streamline the expense reporting process and help simplify some of the accounting and grants budgeting processes,” said Mockler.

Mockler is no stranger to the accounting field. Previously, she was an office manager with the City of Omaha, where she managed her division’s operating budget and assisted her manager in tracking and managing his capital improvement budget, which used bond money. While there, she learned about budgeting for a nonprofit/government entity, which she says differs vastly from budgeting in the for-profit world.

Though she’s experienced in this field, Mockler says she’s looking forward to learning more about working in a rural capacity.

“I’m excited to learn new things, have new experiences, and meet new people,” said Mockler. “In my 19 years in Nebraska, I have appreciated the agrarian lifestyle and the down-to-earth nature of the people. I take great pride in assisting the staff of the Center in their endeavors to be the change they want to see in the world.”

In her free time, Mockler enjoys gardening, hiking, and riding her motorcycle. Also, she and her fiancé, Mike Cain, work on a project house in Lyons together.

Mockler can be reached at 402.687.2100 ext. 1007 or erinm@cfra.org. Read more about Staff spotlight: Erin’s journey brought her from the Sunshine State to small-town living

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Nebraska Property Tax Relief: Is Rickett’s Plan the Solution?

By Mary Kuhlman, Nebraska News Service

As they work to determine the best way to bring property-tax relief to Nebraskans, state lawmakers are debating a bill this week backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. 

Legislative Bill 947 would create a refundable tax credit for agricultural and homeowner property taxes that would grow over time and reduces the top corporate income tax rate about one percentage point over five years. While the measure outlines some property-tax relief, critics say it is nominal for residential property owners and does little to help agricultural landowners now. 

Jordan Rasmussen, a policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, contends it misses the mark.

"Really, what it offers up is an income-tax cut for our corporations here in the state as opposed to bringing tax relief to our everyday Nebraskans," she laments. "Moreover, it will create a significant shortfall and gap in the state's budget over the years that it goes into place."

The governor says LB 947 is a reasonable approach to tax relief. Rasmussen argues it does not address low state support for K-12 education, which has increased the need to rely on property taxes. Other opponents point out there are lingering questions over how the plan would be funded.

LB 947 would cost the state nearly $650 million when fully implemented. And Rasmussen explains it would take money out of the cash-reserve fund.

"Those are our rainy-day funds for when something truly problematic comes up, and this is not the instance to be making use of that," she says. "It's just very unsound policy that's being brought forward."

The Center for Rural Affairs is among groups supporting the principles outlined in LB 1084. Rasmussen says they would modernize the tax code by striking the balance needed between property, sales and income taxes.

"Rural Nebraskans, they are in need of property tax relief but they're not asking to sidestep the responsibility to help fund schools and services that uphold their communities," she explains. "These assets are important in rural Nebraska. They're just simply asking for balance in the ways the state meets its obligations to pay for education."

Agriculture and educational groups in the state helped draft LB 1084, which expands the sales tax base, eliminates loopholes and keeps school spending growth at a minimum.

LB 947 will be debated on April 3 at the Nebraska Capitol. Join us for Family Farm Lobby Day and tell your senator to vote NO on LB 947. Read more about Nebraska Property Tax Relief: Is Rickett’s Plan the Solution?

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Iowa's sustainable ag supporters champion conservation in 2018 farm bill

By Roz Brown, Public News Service - Iowa

Advocates of sustainable agriculture are urging Congress to pass a farm bill that backs stronger farming conservation practices. 

Anna Johnson, policy program associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, says the recently introduced GROW Act, which stands for Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work, would maintain funding and acreage levels for the farm bill's three largest conservation programs: Conservation Stewardship, Environmental Quality Incentives and Conservation Reserve. 

Johnson says any new bill should reward farmers who embrace conservation practices and those who enroll marginal agricultural lands for greater productivity. 

"We find that these programs are really valuable for farmers and ranchers because it allows them to increase the level of conservation they have on their land while still maintaining production,” says Johnson, “without impacting their bottom line, that might be through cost share or through technical assistance."

The farm bill is revised every five years, and the current debate comes at a time when farm income is at its lowest point in 12 years. The 2014 farm bill is set to expire this September.

Johnson says the new farm bill should also reward farmers practicing conservation innovation when it comes to crop insurance policies. She notes that current rules require that farmers follow "good farming practices" to qualify for crop insurance, but they do not include conservation practices. 

She says the next generation of farmers will need support to continue good stewardship practices. 

"Soil conservation, soil health, water quality, water quantity, air quality, wildlife habitat,” she says, “so practices that work toward those goals, so that could mean planting cover crops to preserve soil health, planting pollinator strips for wildlife, doing conservation tillage, doing pasture management."

The first farm bill was created in 1933 and provided subsidies to farmers during the Great Depression. Read more about Iowa's sustainable ag supporters champion conservation in 2018 farm bill

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Nebraska Unicameral: LB 947 does not solve the state’s property tax dilemma

Early next week, the Nebraska Legislature is scheduled to take up debate on LB 947, the governor’s tax cut plan. LB 947 cuts taxes for corporations and offers delayed property tax relief in the form of an unfunded tax credit. This legislation fails to address the state’s structural reliance upon property taxes to fund education or outline how the proposed tax cuts will be paid for.

We signed a letter alongside other Nebraska organizations urging senators to vote no.

March 26, 2018

Dear Senators,

As representatives of an array of agricultural organizations we ask that you vote no on LB 947 and instead urgently and substantively address the state’s property tax dilemma in the remaining days of the legislative session.

The state’s reliance upon property taxes to fund K-12 education has placed an unsustainable burden upon on our state’s residential and agricultural land property owners and undue blame upon our school systems. We need to address our state’s school funding dilemma and bring property tax relief to residents. And quite simply, LB 947 does not offer the solution.

Instead of placing emphasis upon property tax relief and identifying the revenues needed to meet the state’s obligations, LB 947 would create a nearly $650 million budget shortfall when fully implemented. By prioritizing tax cuts for corporations and drawing dollars from the rainy day fund, the bill only exacerbates the tenuous budget situation for years to come. Unfunded tax cuts of this magnitude would create a significant setback for Nebraska.

Moreover, the proposed property tax relief outlined does not bring about real tax reform for the state. Rather than providing immediate property tax relief, minimal tax cuts are phased in the form of refundable income tax credits. For rural Nebraska, LB 947 offers too little, too late and leaves the state's reliance upon property tax owners to pay for education. This only creates a greater divide between urban and rural Nebraska.

Our farmers and ranchers do not have the luxury of waiting until 2030 for property tax relief, and our state stands to suffer substantially from their loss. A vote in opposition of LB 947 leaves way for the Legislature to work through a real solution to problem at hand.

We need a real property tax reform solution that:

  • Lessens the state’s dependence upon property taxes to fund K-12 education.
  • Provides immediate and substantial property tax relief to all property tax payers.
  • Protects the state’s cash reserves and funding for vital services.
  • Requires a long-term, sustainable solution to how the state funds education.

Nebraskans are in need of property tax relief, but they are not asking to sidestep their responsibility to help fund the schools and services that uphold their communities. They are simply asking for balance in the way the state meets it obligations to pay for education and other critical services. We ask that you vote no on LB 947 and instead take up debate on a real solution to the state’s property tax dilemma.

Sincerely,

Pam Potthoff, President
Nebraska Women Involved in Farm Economics

David Wright, President
Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska

Kevin Cooksley, President
Nebraska Grange

Jordan Rasmussen, Policy Program Associate
Center for Rural Affairs

Al Davis, Treasurer
Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska

John Hansen, President
Nebraska Farmers Union Read more about Nebraska Unicameral: LB 947 does not solve the state’s property tax dilemma

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Three farmers talk farm bill in Washington D.C.

Three Midwest farmers recently met with their legislators in Washington D.C., to discuss conservation and beginning farmer policy in the next farm bill.

On March 7, farmers Mariel Barreras, Cameron Peirce, and Adam Ledvina joined Anna Johnson, of the Center for Rural Affairs, in a “farmer fly-in” with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

“I enjoyed the responsibility of sharing with our representatives the importance of conservation,” Peirce said. “The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other conservation programs have helped us become more environmentally responsible through the use of no-till and cover crops.”

Peirce, along with his wife and two sons, raises wheat, soybeans, corn, and sunflowers in Reno County, Kansas. He talked about using cover crops with staff in the offices of Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Roger Marshall (R-KS).

Ledvina, who raises goats near Toledo, Iowa, explained that conservation and working lands programs have played an important role in the growth and development of his farm. He visited with staff in the offices of Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Rep. David Young (R-IA).

Barreras visited with staff in the offices of Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Don Bacon (R-NE) about training and educational resources for veteran farmers.

She and her husband, Lt. Col. Anthony Barreras, currently on mission with the U.S. Army, raise livestock for direct retail and wholesale customers in the Omaha, Nebraska, area. Barreras said veteran farmer resources have been invaluable for them as they further develop their operation.

“The opportunity to farm and grow our family farm has come with many of the same traits needed to excel in the military service: initiative, creativity, organization, and a dedication to quality in every task completed,” she said. “Our growth and knowledge comes directly through the assistance of programs and initiatives like USDA programs and other programs built around fostering veteran and farmer networking.”

Congress has started work on the next farm bill as several representatives have introduced bills with proposals that they would like to see in the final bill. The current farm bill expires on Sept. 30, 2018.

If you are interested in talking with lawmakers or if you would like more information, contact Johnson at annaj@cfra.org.

Pictured, left to right: Cameron Peirce, Mariel Barreras, Anna Johnson, and Adam Ledvina. Read more about Three farmers talk farm bill in Washington D.C.

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Congress funds rural programs in 2018 spending bill

Last week, Congress passed its spending bill for this year, which funds the federal government through Sept. 30, 2018. We were very glad to see that it provides support for rural America.

First, Congress provided healthy funding for conservation. Not only did Congress refrain from cutting farm bill conservation programs for the first time in several years, they also increased funding for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) technical assistance, to $874 million from last year’s levels. This funding will support the local NRCS offices where farmers and ranchers access technical assistance for their conservation practices.

In addition, Congress rejected proposed cuts to Rural Development programs.

The Value-Added Producer Grant Program, which allows farmers and ranchers to diversify their income by processing their farm and ranch products, was funded at the same level as 2017, at $15 million.

The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), which provides loan funds and technical assistance to rural entrepreneurs, remains at the funding level provided in the previous farm bill, at $2.8 million, without additional support. You can read more about how RMAP supported a rural Nebraska restaurateur here.

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program received from Congress its highest funding level in 30 years, $35 million. We are very encouraged that Congress has shown this support for publicly funded research in sustainable agriculture.

Finally, the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the 2501 Program, received $3 million in funding for 2018, which is in addition to the $10 million in funding provided by the farm bill. This program has allowed many farmers and ranchers from around the country, who are new to farm programs, to access U.S. Department of Agriculture support.

All in all, these funding levels show heartening support for rural America. A big thanks to everyone who has taken the time to share with your legislators the importance of these programs to rural communities, and thanks to the legislators who listened. Onward!

Feature photo: The Value-Added Producer Grant Program was funded at $15 million in the 2018 federal spending bill passed last week. Value-Added Producer Grants can be used for working capital, feasibility studies, business plans, and marketing efforts used to establish value-added businesses, such beauty products including hand salve, pictured. | Photo by Kylie Kai Read more about Congress funds rural programs in 2018 spending bill

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Childhood experiences spark lifelong passion for rural living

Rural places are close to my heart because I have seen the value of them firsthand. I am from Monticello, Iowa, which is a town of about 4,000 people, three stop lights, and one grocery store. Growing up, driving 35 minutes to see a movie used to frustrate me. But, as I’ve gotten older, I have truly been able to see the value of my town and what the way of life contributes to people.

Spending time on my grandparents’ and uncle’s farms began my love of agriculture and the living it provides. Summers during my childhood consisted of my sister and I staying at my uncle’s farm. We spent our days riding horses, jumping on hay bales, swimming in the river behind my grandpa’s timber, and playing hide and seek around the farm. I remember always being so sad as a child when it was time to go home; there was nowhere as great or magical as the farm. So, when it came time for me to decide where I wanted my career path to go, I knew I wanted to work with farmers and rural people.

Growing up on a family farm gave me an appreciation for rural people and who they are. Rural areas are not only a source of agriculture and food, but a way of life that is enriching, unique, and full of character. Rural people value hard work, providing for their family and caring for their close-knit community.

At the Center for Rural Affairs, I have been able to live my dream of helping farmers and rural communities. I have had the opportunity to speak to dozens of farmers about their triumphs and challenges and find out what they need to be successful. Working on projects such as letters to the editor and fact sheets helps farmers by spreading their message and making sure they are heard.

I love working for the Center because it is so evident that everyone here has a passion for helping rural people. The scope of the work we do reaches into every aspect of rural life – small business, farming, clean energy, and local food, to name a few. I am grateful and proud every day to work for an organization where I can make a difference in something I care so much for.

Lacie is a policy program assistant at the Center for Rural Affairs, beginning as an intern in June 2017. She works in our Nevada, Iowa, office. She is a senior at Iowa State University studying Agriculture and Society and Public Relations.

Feature photo: Lacie is pictured (center) with her cousin and grandfather. | Photo submitted by Lacie Dotterweich Read more about Childhood experiences spark lifelong passion for rural living

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Advocates share success stories at Leopold Center event

Recently, small business owners alongside alumni of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, at Iowa State University, met at the Iowa capitol to advocate on the Leopold Center’s behalf.

Last year, the Iowa Legislature defunded and nearly eliminated the Leopold Center by repealing a tax on fertilizer, which provided its funding. By doing so, lawmakers cut a driving force in addressing water quality and revitalizing rural communities.

While Iowa may be behind on water quality, there is one area where the state leads in crafting solutions. Of the 12 states in the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force of 1997, Iowa leads in research identifying best management practices for farms to reduce nutrient loss. Results on the impacts of cover crops, saturated buffers, prairie strips, and bioreactors from the Leopold Center have been used in other Midwestern states.

The Leopold Center also helps rural Iowa communities. By using small feasibility studies, the organization has helped leverage thousands of outside grant dollars to help launch a number of small farms and businesses. These feasibility studies typically cost between $5,000 and $30,000.

Among grant recipients sharing their stories at the capitol were Ellen and Dan Walsh-Rosmann, of Harlan, Iowa, who own and operate an organic farm, along with Farm Table Delivery, a food hub with more than $1 million in sales. In 2013, Farm Table Delivery was launched with guidance from a feasibility study on regional food hubs. They used the study as a resource to map a business model and marketing plan. Continued guidance and research from the Leopold Center allowed the couple to expand their farm and wholesale distribution services with Milk & Honey, a farm-to-table restaurant, in June 2015. The Leopold Center also assisted by providing staff during Ellen’s maternity leave.

Also in attendance was Nick Wuertz, director of refugee services at Lutheran Services of Iowa, where he manages the Global Greens program. Wuertz initiated the program with the help of a $7,000 feasibility study supported by the Leopold Center. From those findings, he began connecting refugee families with small garden plots in the Des Moines metro area. Successful families advanced through Global Green’s training and marketing incubator program to expand sales and plan their businesses. After only five years, the first families in the program now run their own small farms.

The Leopold Center also tests and develops new potential plants, from biomass crops to native fruits and vegetables to locally-grown hops. By widening the scope of agriculture in Iowa, the Leopold Center’s research plays a role in building vibrant, rural communities, and creating new leaders.

The Leopold Center’s goals are to identify and develop new ways to farm profitably while conserving natural resources as well as reducing negative environmental and social impacts. Read more about Advocates share success stories at Leopold Center event

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Working lands and crop insurance could offer conservation opportunities in the farm bill

Many issues surrounding conservation are decided at the time of farm bill renewal.

Working lands conservation programs in the farm bill offer an important opportunity for farmers and ranchers to increase stewardship on their land without impacting their bottom lines. For example, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program support farmers in implementing new conservation practices, and the Conservation Reserve Program offers valuable options for enrolling marginally productive lands.

In addition to these existing programs, farmers and ranchers would also benefit from a farm bill that strengthens the link between crop insurance and conservation. For example, to qualify for crop insurance, farmers are required to follow “good farming practices,” but these do not include USDA-approved conservation activities. This uncertainty can be a disincentive for farmers to adopt conservation practices.

We applaud legislators who have proposed bills that would support conservation, and we urge legislators to include these proposals in the final farm bill. For example, Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and others, recently introduced the Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work (GROW) Act, which contains many proposals to strengthen our working lands programs for the benefit of farmers and ranchers. Another bill, the Strengthening Our Investment in Land Stewardship (SOILS) Act contains similar provisions, introduced by Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN).

The Crop Insurance Modernization Act, introduced by Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN), contains proposals to strengthen conservation within crop insurance, such as including conservation practices under the “good farming practices” of crop insurance.

Finally, the American Prairies Conservation Act of 2017, introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and others, extends protections for native grasslands to the whole country.

We urge Congress to pass a farm bill that has strong support for conservation, before the current farm bill expires on Sept. 30. For a complete description of farm bill policies supported by the Center for Rural Affairs, visit http://www.cfra.org/publications/2018FarmBillPlatform. Read more about Working lands and crop insurance could offer conservation opportunities in the farm bill

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Business Planning 101

The most effective development strategy for rural communities is small entrepreneurship – locally-owned and operated small businesses.

The first step in creating a small business is having a great idea. Next is writing a good business plan to help you make superior business decisions. Business plans are also crucial to obtain financing.

Think of a business plan as a resume for your business that should be written down and formalized. In general, it contains:

  • Executive summary: a concise overview of the entire plan.
  • Market analysis: a description and outlook of your industry, target market, and market test results, if available; lead times for your product or service; and evaluation of your competition.
  • Company description: the nature of your business, as well as the factors you believe will make your business a success.
  • Organization and management: the organizational structure and details about ownership, delineating roles and responsibilities.
  • Marketing and sales management: the marketing strategy (market penetration, business growth, distribution channels, and customer communication) and the business sales strategy (sales force and sales activities).
  • Service or product line: a description of products or services; copyright and patent information; and research and development activities you have done or will do.
  • Funding request: current and future funding needs, how you will use these funds, and any plans that will affect future funding needs.
  • Financials: historical financial data (income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements); prospective financial data (pro forma income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements); and capital expenditure budgets for any major investments.
  • Appendix: any additional information. This may include credit history, product pictures, letters of reference, legal documents, and a list of your attorney and accountant.

For more small business resources, visit cfra.org/small-business. Read more about Business Planning 101

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Farmers and ranchers lose by repeal of Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices standards

The Center for Rural Affairs stands for rural communities, and we, too, believe that an essential foundation for vital rural communities consists of a healthy economy and diverse farming models. Many of the policies we support – organic agriculture, Value-Added Producer Grants, rural microloans – we chose to fight for because they make space for farmers and ranchers to access new or alternative income streams.

We are concerned that some of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recent actions directly undermine this vision, by the removal of several rules.

Last week, USDA decided to roll back the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule. This rule was meant to strengthen animal welfare standards for the organic program, and had the overwhelming support of organic farmers and ranchers and other stakeholders in the organic industry. Along with 72 other organizations, we signed a letter to USDA Sec. Don Perdue stating our support for retaining the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices. Although a final rule was issued in 2017, USDA has now reversed its decision, ignored public support, and withdrawn the rule altogether.

We see an unfortunate similarity with USDA’s decision last year to delay, and finally cancel, the Farmer Fair Practices Rules, or the GIPSA rules. These rules would have brought greater fairness to contract poultry and livestock production and would have helped level the playing field for these producers nationwide.

Both the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices and the Farmer Fair Practices Rules would have made more space in agriculture for farmers and ranchers to pursue diverse livestock and poultry production practices. The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices would have strengthened the organic program, a voluntary set of standards that farmers and ranchers choose, in part, because of the economic opportunity they offer. The Farmer Fair Practices Rules would have made poultry and livestock production a more viable path of production for many farmers and ranchers.

Unfortunately, USDA does not share this vision, and chose to roll back these provisions.

While such losses can be discouraging, we refuse to give up the fight for strong, rural communities. But, we cannot do it alone. You can help us by following our website, signing up for our email list, and continuing to pay attention to the actions of your legislators and other elected officials. Policy change is always a long road, but being alongside our wonderful supporters makes the hard work worth it. Read more about Farmers and ranchers lose by repeal of Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices standards

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A once-in-a-generation opportunity for tax reform and education funding 

By Dave Welsch, farmer and president of the Milford School Board

LB 1084, Sen. Tom Briese’s combined property tax relief and school funding bill, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Let me explain this bold statement.

In the mid-1960s, two generations ago, the state of Nebraska ended statewide property tax. At about the same time, the state began collecting both sales and income taxes. These were all bold moves for generating income for the state.

In 1990, one generation ago, the legislature enacted TEEOSA, the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act. A major component of this legislation was equalization aid to help balance the financial support for all students across Nebraska.

Sen. Scott Moore, who cosponsored the TEEOSA legislation, presented opening remarks at the hearing. He began his comments by stating, "this piece of legislation has the potential to be probably the biggest piece of legislation we passed in this legislature in the last 20 years, and probably the next 20 years after that." This legislation became a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Today, 28 years later, the 49 senators of the Nebraska Legislature have the same once-in-a-generation opportunity in LB 1084.

We all know there are problems with overreliance on property taxes and with the way schools are financed. Sen. Briese’s LB 1084 addresses both of those concerns.

By raising revenues through closing tax loopholes, expanding the sales tax base and implementing a series of other income generators, LB 1084 outlines the dollars needed to make property tax relief and state funding for schools achievable. It also provides a path for a review of how we pay for K-12 public education in the state, a truly once-in-a-generation opportunity.

The citizens of Nebraska are often referred to as the second house of the legislature. That second house has come together in the past year to help draft LB 1084. The diversity of these citizens, and their willingness to work together for the common good, is nothing but amazing.

Major farm organizations like Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, and the Grange have all worked together on this bill. Six agricultural commodity groups and associations came to the table on this bill. The state teachers’ association, along with administrators and several school associations, have collaborated on this bill. These groups don’t normally work together on legislation. But, for the good of Nebraska, they have come together to create a solution to our property tax and school funding concerns.                

Is LB 1084 perfect? No. My personal belief is that education should be strongly funded by income tax. There is a strong correlation between the amount of education a person receives and their level of income during their lifetime.

A lot of people will not like this legislation and will lobby against it. Many of the exemptions proposed to be repealed in LB 1084 were enacted during the past 10 years through aggressive lobbying efforts. Yet, LB 1084 is a worthy compromise.

The legislature needs to stand firm and take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the balance of educational funding and provide property tax relief as well.

Dave Welsch of Milford, Nebraska, is a farmer and 20-year member of the Milford School Board, currently serving as president. Read more about A once-in-a-generation opportunity for tax reform and education funding 

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Iowans respond to clean energy growth

During the past two decades, Iowa’s wind energy industry has created 8,000 to 9,000 jobs, spurred billions of dollars in investment, and provided Iowa landowners with $20 to $25 million in annual land lease payments. With nearly 7,000 megawatts (MW) of installed wind capacity, the state generates more than 37 percent of its power from wind.

Similarly, the Iowa solar industry has begun to follow an impressive growth curve. The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates Iowa will install approximately 225 MW of solar during the next five years.

But, how are Iowans responding to this growth in renewable energy and the corresponding transmission line upgrades that help carry local electricity to our homes?

The Center for Rural Affairs recently released a report offering insight into this question. The report draws on survey responses from Iowa county supervisors and auditors, as well as landowners. Survey responses indicate local elected leaders are generally supportive of wind and solar, especially when these technologies create local economic benefits.

When it comes to transmission lines, elected leaders prioritize fair treatment by developers, preservation of agricultural land, and provision of economic benefits. Landowners reported mostly favorable experiences negotiating transmission easements on their farms. They also offered recommendations on how developers can continue to improve the siting and construction process. Benefits of transmission lines are seen as less tangible than those from wind and solar installations. 

For more information on how Iowa leaders and landowners are responding to wind, solar, and transmission line development, visit cfra.org/publications/PoweringIowa and download the full report, “Powering Iowa: Rural Perspectives on Iowa’s Renewable Energy Transformation.”

Quick Iowa Legislature Update

Legislation that would cut or eliminate requirements for energy efficiency programs for major utilities have been introduced in the Iowa Legislature. At the time of print (of our March/April newsletter), two different bills are in action – Senate Study Bill (SSB) 3093/House Study Bill (HSB) 595 in the House and Senate Commerce Committees and SSB 3078 in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

A bill to extend the solar production tax credit for another year is also in the works. Contact your legislator to continue support for clean energy initiatives in Iowa.

Feature photo: Survey responses from county supervisors, auditors, and landowners in Iowa show general support of wind and solar, especially when economic benefits are created. More results can be found in “Powering Iowa: Rural Perspectives on Iowa’s Renewable Energy Transformation” at cfra.org. | Photo by Rhea Landholm Read more about Iowans respond to clean energy growth

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A property tax lesson from Arthur County

By Ty Walker

Property taxes have more than doubled in the past decade. The price of cattle has not. This has created significant challenges for those of us in production agriculture.

When this trend first began, I was quick to blame our local administrators and school board for the burden placed on property tax payers. I believed the only way to control the rise in property taxes was for schools to mitigate spending at the local level.

My views evolved as I learned more about our state budget and the way we fund our educational system.

While we can and do expect local officials to use our tax dollars as conservatively as possible, we must also understand the tools they are forced to work with. School spending may seem high, but it is less the fault of our local schools and more a result of our stubborn reliance on an outdated school funding formula.

This, in turn, is due to a lack of leadership in Lincoln.

That is why I support LB 1084. While this legislation does not outline all of the structural changes needed to remedy our school funding debacle, it charts a course forward. It is a common-sense solution based on balance and compromise.

This legislation provides the immediate property tax relief those of us in rural Nebraska truly need. It does so by eliminating loopholes and modernizing our tax system. The bill would also hold school spending growth to a minimum. Unlike other options under consideration, it achieves this while protecting the state budget.

LB 1084 brings in the dollars needed to achieve property tax relief, while moving toward a better solution for schools. Arriving here has taken courage and compromise. My gratitude stands ready for the Nebraska state senators who have the courage to see this bill become law.

Ty Walker ranches with his family in rural Arthur County, Nebraska. Read more about A property tax lesson from Arthur County

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