|Guns, Immigration, Fiscal Policies and Legacy Issues
By JUDY MALONE
ASI Director of Industry Information
(March 1, 2013) Legislative Action Council co-chairs, Bob Benson (Ind.) and Gary McGehee (Texas), reviewed the 2012 “game plan” with council members during the 2013 American Sheep Industry Association (ASI)/National Lamb Feeders Association Convention in San Antonio, Texas, in January. Top priorities for the last fiscal year included Wildlife Services funding, passage of the Farm Bill, H-2A program utilization, bighorn sheep resolution and consistency on public lands. These priorities were addressed through congressional visits, call to action alerts and conference calls.
“Guns, immigration, fiscal policies and legacy issues are at the top of the administration’s legislative agenda for the new 113th Congress as it begins the work of the people,” says Fran Boyd, Meyers and Associates, during his review of activities in Washington, D.C.
The new Congress, having been sworn in and committees named, provides a glimpse into the makeup of the agriculture committees. Although the make-up of Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee will remain much the same as in the last congress with the addition of new members from North Dakota and Indiana, the biggest change will be Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.) assuming the role of Ranking Committee Member from Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.). However, the House Agriculture Committee will see bigger changes with at least 18 new members. With over 80 percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) annual funding going to nutrition and feeding programs, many of these new members are not necessarily from traditional farming districts. Boyd’s recommendation is that it will again be necessary for ASI to focus on educating the new members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees about sheep industry priorities and the necessity for these programs.
Another area that is sure to affect the sheep industry of the future will be the president’s appointments of three key cabinet positions -- secretary of Interior, secretary of Labor and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
As it now stands, the continuing resolution (CR) for fiscal year 2013 is set to expire on March 27. It is expected that Congress will extend the current CR through the end of this fiscal year and will instead focus on appropriating funds for fiscal year 2014. Federal funding for FY 2013 was favorable for the sheep industry so this is not all bad, yet it will likely mean another legislative battle to keep Wildlife Services funded at meaningful levels, obligating the 200 plus ASI led coalition to mount a defense against those that would like to see the program eliminated.
Immigration reform continues to be a hot button for agriculture and is seriously being considered by the 113th Congress. A new agricultural immigration reform coalition, Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), was developed recently. This new multi-organization coalition is an effort to bring agricultural interests together on workforce reform. As a voice of agriculture, AWC is developing proposals to help ensure that farmers and ranchers can find the labor force they need to work on their operations both now and in the future. ASI has lent its support to the coalition.
AWC guidelines recommend an immigration program that allows both employer and employee choice and flexibility by offering two options.
At-will employees have the freedom to move from employer to employer without any contractual commitment. They would have a visa term of up to 11 months with USDA registered employers and then return home for 30 days. There would be no limit on the number of times a person could obtain the 11-month visa.
Contract employees commit to work for an employer for a fixed period of time and would have a visa term of up to 12 months (renewable indefinitely), and conditioned upon a commitment to return to their home country for at least 30 days over a three-year period.
ASI’s policy goal has been and continues to be to codify current H-2A regulatory provisions utilized for sheepherders. When queried if the AWC proposal would be beneficial to the sheep industry, Boyd’s comment was that “the current sheepherder H-2A program is envied by many other groups. It is impossible to predict at this time what the final form of immigration reform will look like but the efforts of coalitions like AWC can only help sheep producers in securing the ultimate legislative reforms they are seeking.”
Patricia A. Wolff, senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, rounded out the legislative council agenda with her discussion of federal tax issues and what may come next. According to Wolff, tax rates and estate taxes were the priority issues facing agriculture interests as the 112th Congress came to a close.
With the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the estate tax exemption is $5 million per person indexed for inflation with any unused amount allowed to transfer to a spouse. The top rate on capital gains taxes will be 15 percent and the income tax-rate brackets will be 10 percent, 25 percent, 28 percent and 35 percent.
Some of the rules that remain temporary include the maximum amount a small business can immediately expense being $500,000 reduced dollar-for-dollar when expenditures exceed $2 million (2012 and 2013), 50 percent bonus depreciation (2013), incentives for renewable electricity (2013), the provision encouraging donations of conservation easements (2012 and 2013) and an enhanced deduction for donated food (2012 and 2013).
Wolff’s vision of things that may occur as the next Congress considers tax reform legislation could include changing farm equipment depreciation from seven years to five years, using valuation for estate taxes instead of market valuation and the collection of sales tax on internet sales, taking away tax-free transactions.