Five months after veto, cost still isn’t estimated for buffer strip tax break

Farm Forum

PIERRE — One of the arguments used back on March 29 to sustain the governor’s veto of the buffer-strips tax break for farmers and ranchers during the 2016 legislative session was its unknown cost.

Now, five-plus months later, Gov. Dennis Daugaard is throwing the full weight of his administration — four different departments and one of his top aides — behind his own buffer-strips plan.

And, surprisingly, the estimated cost still remains unknown.

A legislative task force received an explanation Monday of the governor’s plan. Chairman of that task force is Sen. Jim Peterson, D-Revillo, whose buffer-strip legislation was blocked by Daugaard’s veto.

Peterson said he would have tried to introduce a more detailed version for the 2016 legislative session but waited until the final deadline for filing new bills.

The purpose is to encourage wider use of grass strips along waterways as a management tool to reduce agricultural pollution.

The governor’s version would grant a 40 percent reduction in the land’s tax assessment whether the property has crop-rated or pasture-rated soils.

In return for the tax break the grassy strip would need to be 50- to 120-feet wide, along a state-recognized water body such as a lake, stream or river.

Its perennial vegetation couldn’t be mowed or harvested before July 10 and couldn’t be grazed May through September.

The landowner would need to apply each year no later than Oct. 15 with the county director of equalization.

Michael Houdyshell, director for the state Division of Property and Special Taxes, said the governor hasn’t decided whether the legislation would be offered in the 2017 session by one of his state departments. Houdyshell said the task force could be an option too.

The task force didn’t take any action Monday toward endorsing the legislation. Peterson said it could be discussed at the panel’s meeting next month.

Peterson said he could see allowing the ground to be mowed or hayed once every three years. He didn’t like the provision that would allow mowing or harvesting if at least six inches of vegetation cover remained.

“It’s really hard to go out and mow at a 6-inch height. That’s the only hiccup I see in the bill,” he said.

The senator’s legislation would have covered up to 50 feet and would have provided a tax break only on ground that had crop-rated soils. The incentive under Peterson’s plan was to assess the ground as though it had pasture-rated soils.

Houdyshell said personnel from the governor’s office and the departments of Game, Fish and Parks; Revenue; Agriculture; and Environment and Natural Resources worked on drafting the new legislation.

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