JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers took an initial step Tuesday toward rejecting a proposal that would lead to higher property taxes for the state's highest-producing farms.
Property taxes for Missouri farms are based on the land's "productive value." The State Tax Commission voted in December to increase the productive values for higher quality land for the 2013 and 2014 tax years. The legislature has until early March to block the property tax changes from taking effect.
The House voted 117-39 on Tuesday in support of a resolution rejecting the property tax proposal. The measure now moves to the Senate.
Supporters of keeping the current property tax levels for farms said flooding, drought and other natural disasters that struck the state over the past year have taken a toll on agriculture. There was flooding in southeastern Missouri, and fields in northwestern Missouri were inundated by high water on the Missouri River through the spring and summer.
The House resolution to block the property tax changes was sponsored by Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany. It was supported by several lawmakers from rural areas, who said a property tax increase would cause additional hardships for farmers.
"This is just not the time to have an additional burden put on those folks," Rep. Terry Swinger, D-Caruthersville, said.
Missouri farms are grouped into eight categories based on land quality, with the best farms in Grade 1 and the worst in Grade 8. The State Tax Commission proposed an increase for the productive values of the four highest grades. The remaining types of farms, which include pastures, forests and less productive crop land, would remain unchanged.
The commission estimated that about 65 percent of Missouri's agricultural property falls into the higher grades that would be unaffected by the increase in productive values. It said the tax changes amount to a 29 cent per acre increase for the most productive land.
Missouri's agricultural property taxes are calculated by taking the productive value, multiplying it by 12 percent and then multiplying that figure by the local tax rate.
Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, said she is concerned rejecting the property tax proposal could shortchange schools, fire districts and other community services that depend on tax revenue.
"Is there ever a time when things will be profitable enough ... that we could increase taxes on farmland?" McNeil said.
Missouri lawmakers two years ago also rejected the State Tax Commission's property tax proposal that would have increased the productive values for the best four grades of farmland, lowered it for the next three categories of land and kept the worst category of land at the same level.