Gov. Mike Pence turned his first bill into law on Wednesday, signing legislation that will prevent property tax increases for farmers by delaying a major update on their assessed values.
"This is a very meaningful moment in the life of our young administration and in the life of our state," Pence said, with farmers and lawmakers lined up behind him and the bill and several pens sitting on a table in front of him.
"By lowering assessments, we're lowering taxes on family farmers and we are affirming the strong commitment the people of Indiana feel to agriculture in the Hoosier state and the family farm in particular," he said.
Pence signed his name in four parts using four different pens so he could give one to each of bill's sponsors and authors.
The General Assembly fast-tracked the bill to prevent higher assessments from taking affect for farmers across the state. The move is expected to save agricultural land owners some $57 million in property taxes.
Those higher assessments, though, could have meant more revenue for local governments or lower taxes for other property owners. That won't happen now that the bill has been signed into law.
Senate Enrolled Act 319 delays a change in the way assessors put tax values on agricultural land. Current law requires that counties use updated soil productivity data - in addition to crop yields, commodity prices and other factors - to determine farm values for taxation.
But those new productivity numbers were expected to boost assessed values, and therefore tax bills, considerably. So the law orders local assessors to use older numbers.
The Indiana Farm Bureau issued a statement on Wednesday thanking Pence and lawmakers for moving the bill into law. It called the proposed soil productivity factor "unreasonable."
The proposed new soil productivity factors used for farmland assessment in Indiana could have caused an estimated 25 percent average increase in property tax payments for Indiana's farmers, depending on the county in which they own property.
The law's author, Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, appeared with the governor on Wednesday and said the measure is evidence that state officials understand the importance of agriculture.
"We want to help those families and the industry," Leising said. "I think protecting them from a 25-percent average increase in property taxes is a good way to do that."
Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.
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