Mark O’Neill, Media and Strategic Communications Director
510 S. 31st Street , Camp Hill, PA 17001 • 717.761.2740 • Email • @pfbmediaone
For Immediate Release: April 5, 2016
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(Harrisburg) – More than 300 farmers from across the Commonwealth converged on Harrisburg to participate in Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s State Legislative Conference and meet with members of the General Assembly to discuss priority issues affecting farm families, including a call for immediate action to secure 2015-16 budget allocations for agriculture programs funded through the Race Horse Development Fund. Other key issues focus on the need for lawmakers to strengthen an inheritance tax exemption for farm families; devise a method to identify solutions that provide meaningful real estate property tax reform; and enact changes to address huge unfunded liabilities in the state’s two pension systems.
Farm Bureau notes that approved funding for the state’s Animal Health and Diagnostic Commission ($5.35 million), the Pennsylvania Veterinary Laboratory System ($5.309 million), Pennsylvania State Fairs ($4 million) and the Pennsylvania Farm Show ($5 million) are hung up as a result of Governor Wolf’s veto of the state Fiscal Code. PFB is especially concerned about the lack of funding for the diagnostic commission and Vet Lab, which play a critical role in diagnosing and investigating disease in farm animals, including avian influenza, and infectious diseases that affect humans, such as rabies.
“Although agriculture research and cooperative extension programs administered by Penn State University are finally being adequately funded though the current fiscal year budget, money for the state’s diagnostic labs are in limbo. In addition, popular public events, such as State Fairs and the Pennsylvania Farm Show, are also affected by the veto,” said PFB President Rick Ebert. “Farmers are calling on lawmakers to pass House Bill 1589, which would allow the Wolf Administration to release agriculture funds tied up by the fiscal code veto.”
Meanwhile, PFB is once again urging members of the General Assembly to make pension reform and property tax reform among its top priorities. Farm Bureau believes lawmakers should not wait any longer to take action to reduce the massive unfunded liability of Pennsylvania’s public pension systems nor should they delay making changes to the way local school systems are funded.
“Pennsylvania farmers, who typically face high real estate property taxes because they require a large amount of land to produce food, are also vulnerable to even higher property taxes associated with an out-of-control pension liability,” added Ebert. “We want lawmakers to consider all options to reducing pension debt and changing pension formulas that have created such a huge deficit in the system. In addition, we are seeking an alternative means to funding the state’s public school system. Instead of relying on real estate property taxes, we support legislation requiring dollar for dollar reductions in property taxes in conjunction with an increase of the state sales tax and the personal income tax.”
Farm Bureau members also asked lawmakers to support Senate Bill 580, which would amend a law (Act 85) that provides an inheritance tax exemption for farm families. “Farmers greatly appreciate the state inheritance tax exemption enacted in 2012, but interpretations of the act are limiting the scope of the exemption. We are seeking amendments to ensure that the exemption will also apply to farm transfers involving businesses and legal arrangements farm families are using to maintain their future operation of the farm,” Ebert concluded.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is the state’s largest farm organization with a volunteer membership of more than 61,400 farm and rural families, representing farms of every size and commodity across Pennsylvania.