Kansas lawmakers have not passed a wildfire tax relief bill for farmers

Nearly three months after Kansas farmers and ranchers saw 160,000 acres of land burned by wildfires, the Legislature has yet to pass a bipartisan sales tax relief bill.

Now, after more wildfires occurred over the weekend, some lawmakers are once again pushing for the measure.

“It’s something that Republicans, Democrats, the Legislature, the governor have agreed it needs to be done quickly,” Rep. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra. “And we also had more fires this weekend in Reno County and so on. So it needs to be done, within the next week or two.”

Rahjes, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, was one of the sponsors of a bill that would defer agricultural fence materials used to rebuild from a natural disaster from sales taxes.

The relief is focused on fencing because, unlike homes and other property, they are not covered by insurance.

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The reason for the holdup is not clear. Speakers for the House Republican leadership did not respond to a request for comment on when the law, the House Substitute for SB 318, will be debated on the floor.

Senator Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, who co-sponsored the Senate bill, said he was surprised by the holdup in the House.

“I thought it was going to go here and finish it quickly,” he said. “I need to check and see what’s going on.”

The bill passed the Senate 35-0 in final emergency action on Jan. 20, and the House Taxation Committee passed its own version on HB 2464 on the same day. Last month, the committee put the contents of the House’s “clean” version into the Senate bill, which featured two add-ons.

“People are frustrated,” Rahjes said, acknowledging that most of the frustration was shared with the federal government, which “took a while” to approve a declaration of disaster.

More:Will Kansas farmers and ranchers get a permanent tax fence through wildfire aid bills?

But even the federal government acted faster than the state Legislature.

Approved by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack in Feb. 9 disaster designation for Ellis, Russell, Barton, Lincoln, Osborne, Rush, Ellsworth, Ness, Rooks and Trego counties. The measure makes farmers eligible for certain Farm Service Agency assistance, including emergency loans.

Billinger has a second bill with broader disaster assistance for Kansans. The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee held a hearing last week on SB 509.

The bill would allow a state sales tax refund for purchases that “reconstruct, repair, or replace any dwelling, building, facility, structure, fixture, fence, other enhancement, or household equipment that is damaged or damaged by fire, flood, tornado, lightning, explosion, windstorm, ice load and accompanying winds, terrorism, or earthquake. “

Hutchinson’s fire was still burning

Kansas lawmakers implemented similar sales tax exemptions after previous fires, but they set those laws to expire. Under the new proposal, the law will be a permanent exemption that will not have to be renewed after future disasters.

Farmers and ranchers who have already purchased fencing materials will get a refund on taxes.

The fences will be rebuilt in the approaching spring, Rahjes said.

“I was out in Ellis County last weekend. I saw some green in some areas that were burned,” he said. “So that’s exciting, the regrowth. But we need to make sure that the farmers and ranchers don’t need to worry. They can go ahead and build those fences but know they are going to get the relief that we can. provide. “

If it was passed in January when lawmakers first pushed it, relief is already in place for the latest wildfire.

That was reported by the Hutchinson Fire Department losses in wildfire including one death, 35 houses, 92 outbuildings and 110 vehicles completely destroyed on 12,000 acres. Fire officials did not estimate the amount of damage.

The fires are still burning and are not expected to be 100% contained before the end of the week, The Hutchinson News reported.

More:Fire officials released damage figures from Saturday’s deadly fire in Reno County

December fires inspired bill

The bill was inspired by a fire on Dec. 15, called the Four County Fire, that destroyed approximately 163,000 acres of most agricultural land primarily in Russell, Osborne, Rooks and Ellis counties. Two people died.

“Many animal producers affected by this weather event have seen major damage to their lifelong work with the loss of fences, forage, harvested feed resources, outbuildings, homes and livestock,” said Dean Klahr of Kansas Livestock. Association of legislators. “Furthermore, cattle producers whose cattle died in the fire will have no calf crops and wages by 2022.”

An estimated 5,000 miles of fencing were damaged or destroyed by the Four County Fire, according to the testimony of Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill, and Keith Haberer, the emergency management director for Russell and Ellsworth counties.

Haberer estimated the amount of sales tax at $ 1,000 per mile of fencing.

“You still have stone pillars that decades ago, maybe even 100 years, fell down,” Waymaster said. “And you have wooden poles that just burned.”

Chris Pelton, a Paradise area rancher and volunteer firefighter, lost his home and business. He testified about driving through pastures, finding the charred bodies of cattle burned alive.

“Euthanizing the critically injured is a job I can’t afford to deal with alone and thanks to that with help from fellow ranchers,” Pelton said.

His ranch has 28 miles of fencing, which costs about $ 20,000 per mile to rebuild.

“Now I’m standing before you’re broken,” Pelton said, seeming to hold back tears. “Everything I worked for was burned. But I humbly knew I had to ask for help.”

‘Getting bones on a piece of barbed wire’

Because the wildfires in December were fresh in their minds, lawmakers prioritized the issue when the legislature session began in January. The Senate unanimously passed the bill before the end of the month. The House committee also approved a bill – but months later, the entire chamber has yet to address an issue that many consider an emergency.

The lack of action in the House comes after representatives on the tax committee argued last month that controversial amendments to the Senate plan would delay the process.

“You go into negotiations and you tell the Senate that these people are waiting for their sales tax exemption and have raised their fences, and you keep delaying them,” Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Eastborough.

Rep. Ken Corbet, R-Topeka, appeared to support the Senate’s proposals and suggested that the House be the reason for the delay.

“You’ve seen videos of everyone losing everything there, and here we’re picking bones out on a piece of barbed wire,” Corbet said. “Sounds really crazy.”

The House Taxation Committee eventually removed the Senate add-ons and sent the bill to the entire chamber, where it has not yet been debated.

The Department of Revenue’s financial record indicates that the original bill would reduce state sales tax receipts by $ 1.4 million in connection with wildfires in December. The state can afford such a tax break. The expected budget surplus is approximately $ 3 billion.

The Senate bill includes property tax cuts led by Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker and the chairman of the chamber tax committee.

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The provision aims to help people who lost property who were homeless during the disaster and originally inspired the May 28, 2019 tornado to track certain parts of Douglas and Leavenworth counties. Current law allows county commissions to reduce property taxes on homesteads, but not other property, such as barns.

Such proposals have been made in recent years – most recently in SB 23 last session.

The entire Senate almost approved an amendment from Sen. Virgil Peck, R-Havana, who will permanently exempt agricultural fencing products from sales tax. Opposition in the Senate has centered on the unknown amount of finance and the unification of an industry for tax benefits.

“We have an issue where they will build fences and make Johnson County pay for it,” Rep. Said. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, who led the charge against the Senate proposal. “If we can hurt this bad boy and put our version of it, I’ll agree.”

Concerns during wildfire

This week is Severe Weather Preparedness Week. Lawmakers previously allowed Wildfire Awareness Week – Feb. 15-19-to pass without passing wildfire relief.

“It’s a small part we can do,” Rahjes said. “We’re going to be right in fire territory as well, we need moisture in this state. That’s a concern too, is we have a big wildfire season.”

More:‘Who is the voice of water today?’: Kansas ag groups, lawmakers cross swords over water policy overhaul

Klahrs, of the animals association, said the bill was a priority, especially after the weekend fires.

“It’s an important and important issue to pass on and get relief for producers affected by those fires,” he said.

Rep. Said. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, that lawmakers should act “with ease and help people recover” for “whatever relief they need.” He also said lawmakers should reconsider recommendations made previously ignored wildfire management audits.

“It’s time to go back and look at those things and start listening to fire chiefs and fire officers about how we can do a better job at managing things like this,” he said. .

Jason Tidd is a statehouse reporter for Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Tidd.