WA State House OKs farm tax break

JOSEPH TURNER; The News Tribune


Olympia, WA - Farmers in Pierce, Thurston, King and four other urban counties would get a small tax break under terms of bill the state House of Representatives approved Wednesday.

House Bill 1677, sponsored by state Rep. Jan Shabro (R-Lake Tapps), would exempt farm equipment from the county portion of the property tax.

It wouldn't amount to much in Pierce County - perhaps $34,000 a year collectively - because there is only $8.8 million worth of tractors, combines and other farm equipment on the tax rolls.

But every bit helps, Shabro said.

"Urban counties are really trying to keep what little farmland is left," said Shabro, a former Pierce County councilwoman.

The state already exempts farm equipment from the state portion of the personal property tax, beginning last year.

The House voted 92-0 to approve the additional tax break on the county portion. A similar measure passed the House last year but died in the Senate budget committee.

Sen. Dan Swecker (R-Rochester), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said last year's measure applied to all 39 counties and was opposed by lawmakers from rural counties who rely heavily on property taxes. HB 1677 applies only to Pierce, King, Snohomish, Thurston, Kitsap, Spokane and Clark counties - areas where farmlands are more threatened by urban development.

Narrowing the bill to those seven counties should improve its chances of passing, Swecker said. The measure is likely to be referred to his committee later this week.

"I'll push it forward," Swecker said.

Statewide, $329 million worth of farm equipment has been taken off the state tax rolls.

Shabro said while she was on the County Council she looked into why the county wasn't giving a tax break to help preserve agricultural lands and found out the county didn't have the authority to grant a tax exemption. That's why she introduced the bill when she got to Olympia, she said.

The property tax rate in Pierce County last year was $3.81 per $1,000, including both the general and road tax. That's the portion that farmers no longer would pay for their farm equipment as long as that equipment is used exclusively to grow and produce agricultural products during the calendar year in which the exemption is claimed.

If if becomes law, the new tax exemption probably would first apply to tax collections in 2005.

Joseph Turner:253-597-8436

(Published 12:01AM, February 12th, 2004)



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