The Wisconsin legislative session is wrapping up in a good, but unusual, way. Lawmakers are busy showing their love for farmers.
Several agricultural bills have been working their way through the Legislature all year long, but the almost unprecedented focus on ag issues that we see now is new.
At the end of January, Gov. Tony Evers delivered his State of the State address to the combined Legislature. I was in the audience that night and was excited to hear the governor talk extensively about rural communities and agriculture. He probably devoted more of his speech to this topic than any other. He also announced a multi-part plan to work on issues important to agriculture, which he hoped to address through a special legislative session.
Of the governor’s plan, we were most interested in two proposals he had revived from his budget. One would add funding for dairy processor grants, which historically have been well used. Our hope is that expanding these grants will promote innovation and help our processors bring new products to market. The other is to provide more funding for the Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports, an existing program at DATCP that is designed to help boost Wisconsin’s dairy exports.
Republican lawmakers responded to the governor’s speech by announcing their own package of bills that will look at ways to help farmers and strengthen rural communities. Flanked by much of his caucus, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced at a press conference that they would be offering a bigger and bolder vision of how to help ag stakeholders.
The lawmakers said their bills would look at farmers’ more immediate needs. The bills focus on putting more money back in the pockets of farmers now. For example, one measure would create an income tax credit based on the amount of property tax paid on ag building improvements. That credit would be limited to $7,500 per year for an individual, entity or married couple filing jointly. Another bill would allow farmers and other self-employed people to deduct health insurance costs. DBA is supportive of both approaches, although the first one faces a harder fight over passage because it comes with an annual $27 million price tag.
This outpouring of bipartisan support for farmers and rural communities has been great to see. We’re hopeful that many of the proposals made by the governor and Republican lawmakers will make it over the finish line before the last floor date, which is likely this month. In addition to these newly introduced bills, we are working hard to ensure this new focus on ag issues helps us pass legislative priorities that still haven’t made it all the way through the legislative process. All indications are that it will help.
We enter 2020 with measured expectations, but this year might mark the most significant legislative year for Wisconsin farmers in more than a generation. Can you feel the love?