Legislative Notebook: Deal warns no tax break for faux farming

January 31, 2013 

ATLANTA -- If there’s anything rural legislators love, it’s the recently passed Georgia agriculture tax exemption that, among other things, removes the sales tax from farmers’ equipment.

Eleven weeks in, it is weeding out certain part-time farmers that some worried would deluge the program.

It takes $2,500 in farm income to get a tax exemption certificate, plus a copy of one of the federal tax forms that only farmers use.

“We’ve had a good number of people, they can quality for the $2,500 but they get that and call upstairs (to the Department of Agriculture) and say, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t show my cows on my taxes,’’’ Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told a Legislative Rural Caucus meeting Thursday.

Those hobby ranchers don’t get a certificate.

The Department of Agriculture has passed out about 22,000 certificates so far. Black said that number may never reach 30,000, much less a high estimate of 49,000 farmers.

But he also told the caucus that his department is still refining and interpreting the list of eligible goods such as retail fuel.

“I’m getting very specific questions in my district,” said state Rep. Robert Dickey, R- Musella, echoing several of his colleagues.

Gov. Nathan Deal praised the tax break. But in a short speech to the caucus he cautioned the Department of Agriculture to think carefully about what will be exempted.

“Nobody get greedy. Nobody try to overreach the process,” he said.

If the list is “aggressive” without being specific, Deal said, the Legislature may want to revisit the law and whittle it down.

“If it is revisited I can assure you it will probably not be as favorable as it is,” Deal said.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail her at mlee@macon.com.

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