facebook twitter you tube



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.



McEwen: Three Amigos keep tax break for farm buddies

By Bill McEwen - The Fresno Bee

Now we know exactly where the Three Amigos of Agriculture have drawn the line.
In tough economic times, Supervisors Judy Case, Phil Larson and Debbie Poochigian can muster the political courage to approve layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs for public employees.

The supervisors also are OK with squeezing the budget to the point Sheriff Margaret Mims must release thousands of inmates early from the county jail.

In the supervisors' view, the public can get along fine without properly maintained parks and adequately staffed libraries. The supervisors will even tolerate complaints about copper-wire theft committed by drug addicts benefiting from the sheriff's catch-and-release policy.

But there's one thing the Three Amigos won't do to help the county budget: reduce a Williamson Act tax subsidy for their farming buddies.

For the third time in three years, the Board of Supervisors has rejected a proposal to take advantage of state law allowing the county to cut the tax break by 10%.

We're talking a stinking 10%, or about $2.5 million extra for the county's general fund.
What could the county do with the extra funds?
Hire more deputies, maybe add a detective or two to the Ag Theft unit.
Put the money toward the $6 million annual cost of opening another jail floor.
Add parks maintenance workers, extend library hours or hire appraisers for the assessor's office.
The money would've been well-spent, I guarantee you.

But Larson said no, Case said no and Poochigian recused herself from Tuesday's vote because her family has land covered by Williamson Act contracts.

Memo to Poochigian: It wouldn't have been a conflict of interest to vote yes on raising your own taxes.
With Larson's and Case's votes canceling out yeses from Supervisors Susan Anderson and Henry R. Perea, the farmers won again -- and, really, why bring the matter up again as long as the Three Amigos remain in office?

I find it curious that approaching October, the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner's office has yet to release the 2011 crop production values report for the county. Kings, Madera and Tulare counties have released their totals. Each of them set crop value records.

In 2010, Fresno County farmers and ranchers produced a record $5.9 billion in crops and commodities to rank as the nation's top county. It also was the fourth straight year of more than $5 billion in production.

Why has the report been pushed back from August?

Maybe the Three Amigos signaled that they didn't want to see "Record $6.5 Billion Fresno County Crop" stories before the vote out of fear John Q. Public would think farmers are doing better than many businesses in this sluggish economy. Or maybe the ag office is so short-staffed the report won't be ready until Thanksgiving.

If the situation is the latter, one of the Three Amigos should've voted yes to the Williamson Act modification and suggested that some of the $2.5 million go to adding ag office staff.

Yesterday's Bee had a letter from two farm lobbyists sticking up for Mims' efforts to curb metal thefts by going after crooked recyclers. In the letter, Manuel Cunha Jr. and Ryan Jacobsen said that they had "no doubt the Fresno County Sheriff's Department is utilizing their limited resources to fight these predatory criminals."

It's true that the county, one of the most impoverished in the nation, has limited resources. One reason for scarce public funds is that county farmers, the most productive in the nation, receive a yearly $25 million Williamson Act tax break vigilantly protected by their Three Amigos.

Valid RSS FeedGet the 10 most recent items from our RSS feed.