Oklahoma Farm Bureau has announced the organization’s priority issues for the 2021 state legislative session as set forth by its grassroots farm and ranch members.
The top issues for Farm Bureau members across all 77 counties include expanding rural broadband internet access, protecting landowners from property tax increases, safeguarding the state agriculture sales tax exemption, increasing access to quality health care in rural communities, securing improved funding for roads and bridges, and ensuring support for Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.
“After a challenging year for Oklahoma agriculture producers, Oklahoma Farm Bureau is eager to bring the voice of our grassroots farm and ranch members to the state Capitol as we work to find solutions to many of the issues facing our farmers, ranchers and rural communities,” said Rodd Moesel, OKFB president.
Expanding rural broadband access
Internet connectivity is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for modern agriculture. Farmers and ranchers today rely on broadband to produce and market their products just as much as they depend on roads and bridges. Agricultural producers need high-speed internet to operate successful, efficient farms and ranches, just like small businesses across urban and suburban Oklahoma.
Yet Oklahoma ranks 47th in the nation for broadband connectivity, and 30% of its population is considered underserved with access to fewer than two internet providers, according to a 2019 Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City report. A lack of reliable and affordable broadband causes rural communities to suffer in educational outcomes, economic development opportunities and overall quality of life.
OKFB this year will continue to work alongside state leaders and lawmakers to find solutions that will help bring high-speed internet access to all Oklahomans.
Preventing property tax increases on ag producers
Though state law currently restricts municipalities from levying property taxes, Farm Bureau this year expects the state Legislature to again consider allowing municipalities and counties to create additional ad valorem taxes to help shore up local budgets. Today, Oklahoma municipalities rely solely on sales taxes and many have faced severe financial uncertainty due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Modern farms and ranches are capital-intensive enterprises that operate in an unpredictable industry. Oklahoma agricultural producers have faced years of challenges that threaten their bottom lines including devastating weather, unpredictable trade disputes, depressed commodity prices and COVID-19 market disruptions. Any increases in ad valorem taxes could become overburdensome to the state’s farmers and ranchers.
Farm Bureau-member policy opposes ad valorem tax increases because property tax bills are due each year, no matter if producers make a profit or lose money.
As state legislators consider updating ad valorem tax laws, OKFB will share with legislators the concerns of farmers and ranchers including the need for an exemption for agriculture land and a 60% vote threshold for approval.
Protecting the agriculture sales tax exemption
Oklahoma farmers and ranchers purchase a wide array of inputs to grow and raise the agricultural products the world relies upon. Much like manufacturers, agricultural producers purchase these inputs – often in bulk – to create value using natural resources and their labor.
The state agricultural sales tax exemption ensures that the costly inputs needed to raise and produce food and fiber can be purchased without the unnecessary burden of a sales tax. Instead, the products Oklahoma agriculturalists produce go on to be taxed on the retail level when consumers purchase food and other items produced on farms and ranches.
As neighboring states provide sales tax exemptions to their farmers and ranchers, the exemption maintains a level playing field for Oklahoma agricultural producers and ensures the state’s farmers and ranchers can compete on a national – and international – level
OKFB members worked for more than 30 years to secure the state agricultural sales tax exemption for farmers and ranchers. As the state Legislature writes and negotiates a balanced budget this year, Farm Bureau will continue to educate state legislators of the necessity of the state agriculture sales tax exemption to Oklahoma’s agriculture industry.
Increasing access to quality and affordable rural health care
Farmers and ranchers live and work in rural Oklahoma, so access to quality and affordable health care services is crucial for Farm Bureau members. Over the past few decades, rural residents increasingly have been forced to travel further for critical health care services as their communities lose local hospitals and face a shortage of health care providers.
Nine rural hospitals in Oklahoma have shuttered since 2005, while 17 rural hospitals are at risk of closure and an additional 35 rural hospitals are considered at medium to high risk for financial distress, according to a recent briefing from the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. An average of 23.3 miles stands between the closed hospitals and the next closest hospital. Additionally, 76 of 77 counties are considered a health professional shortage area according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
From telemedicine programs to tax incentives for rural doctors, Farm Bureau members encourage state legislators to find opportunities to improve the state of health care in rural communities across the state.
As legislators negotiate the state’s budget this year, Farm Bureau members are committed to securing state dollars for a number of crucial services for agriculture and rural Oklahoma.
OKFB will look for the state Legislature to improve funding for the state’s roads and bridges, which are vital in transporting Oklahoma agricultural commodities to market. OKFB also will pursue adequate support for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, which provides farmers and ranchers with invaluable research and offers Oklahoma youth access to fundamental leadership development programs.
As the state, Congress and Oklahoma tribes continue to sort out the impacts of the McGirt v. Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling, OKFB will ensure the interests of farmers, ranchers and rural landowners are represented.
For more information on Farm Bureau’s work at the state Capitol, please contact OKFB public policy staff at (405) 523-2300.