The Williamson Act
But, make no mistake about it, this is policy created by central planners(legislators) to get what they wanted, not a tax give-a-way to a special interest group.
Sep 25, 2012
We should start by saying the Williamson Act is not a law written by farmers for farmers. It is legislation written by anti-sprawl state legislators who decided they didn't want Los Angeles-type sprawl to happen anywhere else. Did you know that L.A. County was once the #1 agricultural county in the state? That's before urban sprawl gobbled up all the farm land, and by the mid 60's legislators determined that it wouldn't happen again if they could do anything about it. Thus the Williamson Act, also known as the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, came to be.
State legislators motivated counties to encourage farmers to put their land in this voluntaray land conservation program by providing property tax relief for the farmers and by re-paying the counties for the lost tax revenue. Farmers got a tax break, counties didn't lose any money, and the legislators got the policy they wanted to prevent urban sprawl. But, make no mistake about it, this is policy created by central planners(legislators) to get what they wanted, not a tax give-a-way to a special interest group.
To get the tax break farmers had to agree to put their land into the Williamson Act for 10-years. It meant they couldn't sell it to developers for the real value of the land. The tax break meant that they wouldn't be taxed on the market value of the land, but by the farm value.
As the economy has struggled the past few years, then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pushed through legislation cutting off the state funds to the counties. But legislation was also passed allowing counties to reduce the Williamson Act contracts by 10% (1-year) in exchange for a 10% increase in property taxes for the farmers. This is what all the recent hub-bub is all about with the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and the Fresno Bee's Bill McEwen (see column below).
The way McEwen sees it, the supervisors took care of their farmer friends by not passing this tax increase. We might look at it another way. Farmers aren't a lot different than other people. They look at all the problems around us like the debt, the deficit, not only nationally but in the state of California. They see their leaders refusing to deal with the elephant in the room which in California is the pension and health care unfunded liability crisis. Instead of dealing with the real problems that need fixing, the politicians always ask voters/citizens for more money. Apparently, they can't do with less money, but we can.
I think we can safely say that farmers would not be against this tax increase if they really thought other problems were being solved. But, it looks like just another way to kick the can down the road so the real problems don't have to be dealt with.
Maybe that's what the supervisors were thinking.
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