Manifolds, Manolos, and Manure
The seating of the 101st General Assembly combined with the turnover on the Cook County Board, Cook County Farm Bureau® has 27 new legislators to share the importance of Cook County agriculture and to build relationships with. Many of the new legislators represent highly urban areas and have a limited knowledge of agriculture. Our role as advocates calls on us to communicate with legislators about agriculture and Farm Bureau’s priority issues.
Farm Bureau’s 2019 state legislative priorities include building relationships and expanding existing relationships with legislators. This year, legislators with little agricultural knowledge will likely consider a variety of taxation issues. One of Farm Bureau’s legislative priorities is to support tax policies that build a positive business climate, including supporting agricultural sales tax incentives, the Farmland Assessment Law, and a flat statement income tax rate. Illinois sales tax law provides that agricultural inputs, such as crop seed and animal feed and some equipment are tax exempt at the time of purchase. The intent of the Illinois sales tax law is to tax the final retail sale of goods produced, not the inputs used to create the final product. All of Illinois’ neighboring states, and most states across the nation, provide sales tax incentives for production agriculture.
Two Illinois jurisdictions already have a higher minimum wage than other areas. Chicago’s minimum wage will increase to $13 per hour on July 1 and Cook County’s minimum wage was increased to $11 last year. Farm Bureau policy opposes increasing the minimum wage. Smaller farmers are more likely to be vulnerable to the impacts of a minimum wage increase because they lack the scale to profitably mechanize and are more likely to face obstacles securing financing. There has been some discussion about geographical minimum wage rate changes, but proponents of a $15 per hour minimum wage have stated that it is a non-starter.
A leading priority of Farm Bureau is maintaining a viable and independent Illinois Department of Agriculture. Agriculture is one of the largest sectors of Illinois’ economy and accounts for $120 billion in economic activity or 9.6% of Illinois’ total economy. The department plays an important role in regulating and promoting the agricultural sector. To maintain the department’s viability, funding levels for agricultural programs should be maintained within Illinois’ current tax structure. Programs that have historically been under fiscal pressure include but are not limited to soil and water conservation districts; environmental services, land and water resources; and the University of Illinois Extension.
On the national front, a leading priority of Farm Bureau is approval of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Farmers need Congress to enact the USMCA in order to recapture lost market demand, end retaliatory tariffs, and build new overseas markets.
Integral to every priority is building new and expanding existing relationships with legislators. None of Farm Bureau’s priorities will be successful unless members, volunteers, leaders, and staff commit to communicating the importance and viability of agriculture to legislators and their staffs at all levels of government. Every one of us can be advocates for agriculture and Farm Bureau’s priorities. Join me and advocate for Cook County and Illinois agriculture.