Jim McMinn

McMinn

Editor, Commonwealth:

In 2010, a relentless war was declared on Leflore County farmland owners and thus on any entity associated with or providing services to the ag economy (and eventually hamburger flippers at fast food restaurants) with the apparent intention of confiscating farmland by the tax authorities.

Land taxes have grown at an astounding 12.38% annual rate since 2009 as a result of a 10.89% annual growth in valuation and a 1.40% growth in millage rates. By comparison, in 12 years prior to 2009, taxes grew at a modest 1.35% with valuation growth of 2.61% and a negative 1.22% growth in millage. Taxes now stand at $26.77 per acre, compared to $8.33 in 2009. At this rate of growth, taxes will be $86.01 per acre within 10 years and $276.33 per acre in 20 years, resulting in the complete destruction of land values and Leflore County being able to say hello to third world status. It is worse in some surrounding counties.

The primary enemy in this war has oddly enough been Mississippi State University’s Department of Ag Economics and Extension Service, which should have the ag economy as its primary concern and not the tax boogie man. They provide valuation information to the Department of Revenue using a phony “use” model by capitalizing alleged “farm income.” This, of course, has the implied assumption that farmers pay property taxes out of farm income. Any half-way competent person knows that landowners pay property taxes out of rental income. Landowners are not for the most part farmers and farmers are not landowners, as the majority of farmed cropland, as reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is rented.

Almost all rented farmland is owned by people like me, a retired college professor, though I don’t own any, or retired elementary teachers who inherited the land but don’t know doodly-squat about farming. In reality, then, the alleged property tax is no property tax at all but an income tax, since with a mandated assessment rate, it is determined by “farm” income. Thus, the income tax is paid by landowners who don’t earn the income, and the farmer who earns the income has nothing to say about what the income is. It is determined by a bureaucrat-acting college professor, like I once was, sitting in an air-conditioned office who has never experienced, like I have, the pleasure of a 100-degree day in a Leflore County cotton field.

MSU refuses to cooperate with or provide transparent information, contrary to what it claims, to those of us trying to address this problem. If it did, one would immediately see that the determined “farm income” is clearly false. Instead of positive and growing, it is actually negative, with no end in sight given current trade disputes, as reported in any farm publication or data set I have been able to find. Or simply ask farmers as they struggle to maintain a positive cash flow, which is not income. For instance, their 2019 cotton planning budget suggested a price of $0.78 for cotton, which in reality was about $0.58 per pound. At a real university where I was a department chair, had I ignored my primary clientele or published such false information, I would have gotten my comeuppance real quick like.

A local group of farmers and landowners, which I support financially and with research assistance, is attempting to bring this problem to the attention of the Legislature and others but have so far had minimum success — that being limiting the growth in valuation to a maximum of 4% but which can be easily offset by an increase in millage rates, as occurred in 2019. I understand they will try and gain an audience with the president of MSU. I hope they are successful, and that the president will have a “come to Jesus” talk with appropriate vice presidents, deans, department chairs, directors and key faculty. They should be told in no uncertain terms that their primary responsibility is to the ag economy and not to the tax authorities.

My interest in this is as a result of growing up in a farm family in Leflore County. I still have friends and family involved in farming there.

I would be happy to communicate additional information to any interested party. I would remind everyone that this is not a question of how many football games MSU or Ole Miss wins. This is a serious problem.

Jim T. McMinn
Murray, Kentucky
270-767-0287

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