Radical right-wing Representative Trish Ladner (R-30/Hot Springs) and Senator Jessica Castleberry (R-35/Rapid City) are trying to keep taxes down for their West River ranching constituents. Alarmed by the pending soil table update, Ladner and Castleberry are reviving a 2016 proposal to assessment grazing land as noncropland.
In 2016, Democratic then-Senator Jim Peterson (D-4/Revillo) offered Senate Bill 4, which would have assigned the lower noncropland assessment to “any agricultural land that has been seeded to perennial vegetation for at least thirty years and is used for animal grazing or left unharvested, or is a native grassland….” Remarkably able to notice this Democratic idea through their Republican mental fog, Ladner and Castleberry propose reducing the qualifying grass time to twenty years. For landowners who misrepresent their land use or sneak in some crops without telling the county director of equalization, Peterson proposed a penalty of two dollars per thousand dollars of taxable valuation; Ladner and Castleberry change that penalty to four years’ worth of the difference between noncropland and cropland assessments on the land in question.
Ladner and Castleberry note that dusty West River rangeland is only a sixth as productive as lush East River pastures:
Now simply designating grassland as noncropland doesn’t resolve this economic discrepancy: Ladner and Castleberry’s draft bill doesn’t distinguish West River from East River. They’ll still need the soil tables and precipitation records and historical sales figures to recognize the lower productivity of West River land.
But that sixfold productivity difference leads me back to my same conclusion: why tax food producers based on the amount of property they hold? Why not just tax ranchers directly on their income? If a beef producer clears $50,000 this year, what does the state care if that wealth came from running cattle on 4,000 acres in sight of Bear Butte or cramming them into some cramped, smelly feedlot on Highway 81? The producer made $50K: take 2% and be done. That would be a lot simpler than Ladner and Castleberry’s scheme of creating another distinction in land categorization and continuing to factor in soil type and rain and historical sales figures.