It makes me immensely proud to see the effort that goes into the Kansas Farm Bureau’s advocacy work for more than 40,000 farm and ranch families in Kansas. As I write this, the 2017 legislative session is in full swing, and so are we.
Not unlike previous years, water is a much-discussed topic at the statehouse. Water rights and funding the state water plan are some of the key issues we’re tackling.
The discussion about funding the state’s water plan is an important one. We wholeheartedly agree that the state’s water plan should be funded, but we cannot forget that there is already a funding mechanism in place. Six million dollars are to come from the state general fund, and another $2 million is supposed to come from economic development initiatives. The problem? The $6 million hasn’t been provided since 2009 and the $2 million since 2012.
We realize the state’s budget issues affect all of us, but we cannot look past a current obligation being ignored.
Work from Gov. Sam Brownback’s 50-year water vision culminated in recommendations from a Blue Ribbon Task Force. This group recommended that the annual obligation for $8 million be met, followed by one-tenth of one percent of the state’s current retail sales tax, to support expanded efforts through the water fund. It also recommended that the sales tax funding mechanism be made a constitutional amendment so the fees could not be swept.
No matter where you live or work, water is an important piece of your daily life. Both urbanites and those who live in the country rely on it.
Another idea being discussed is creating a water-use fee that would tax irrigators. I’ve heard people say agriculture doesn’t pay its fair share, and that’s simply not true. Irrigated land is valued and taxed at a much higher rate than dry cropland based specifically on the amount of water going through the water-right holder’s flowmeter. Farmers also pay fees on pesticides and fertilizers when they purchase those products. Some of those funds are directed to the water plan, others go elsewhere, but the point is that irrigators and agriculture in general do pay sizable amounts of tax each year.
With potential legislative changes like this, it is vital that our members and county Farm Bureaus know what is in our policy and the reasons behind the policy, but also engage in making sure elected officials implement legislation reflected in our policy book.
That is what our grassroots-policy development and implementation process is all about - representing our state’s farmers and ranchers. Everything in our policy book has been brought forward, discussed and voted on by members of the state’s largest farm organization.
And don’t forget how important it is that we are always in communication with our senators and representatives and willing to tell our story.
After all, I’m convinced: There is no one better to tell your story than you. Don’t be afraid to get involved, read up and know the ways policy could impact your everyday operations. Then engage.
Rich Felts and his family farm in Montgomery County. He is president of the Kansas Farm Bureau.