Will the Affordable Health Care Act, often nicknamed Obamacare, affect property taxes for farmers and town folks here in New York state? Seems to me as if it's possible, although I don't claim to know much about tax law. Combine these two quotes and see if you come to the same conclusion I did.
First, from a flier by the Fulton County Board of Supervisors, which was included in each landowner's tax bill:
"New York state Medicaid Mandate: New York state has the most expensive Medicaid program in the nation. State legislators have authorized optional services for recipients that exceed what is required by federal regulations. Spending per recipient is the highest in the country and nearly exceeds those of California and Texas combined. New York is one of only a few states that mandate county governments to pay a portion of the state's cost. In 2013 about 49 percent of the property tax you pay will pay just one bill -- Medicaid."
(According to the New York state Department of Health, Medicaid in the state spends "$53 billion to serve 5 million people.")
Next, a quote from the dairy farming magazine Top Producer, detailing how the new law (Obamacare) will affect dairy farmers:
"The law will also extend Medicaid coverage and insurance subsidies to all low-income Americans."
Combining the two quoted stories, it would seem as if Medicaid will be offered to more people across the country. If even part of the additional cost is passed along to counties, then the answer may indeed be yes.
In the county to our north, unfunded state-mandated programs account for 80 percent of the property tax levy. Here in Montgomery County the same mandates are likely to have a similar effect on the amount of hard-earned cash land and home owners need to pony up each year.
Farmers are particularly likely to feel an extra pinch, since they generally pay taxes on large acreage in order to grow crops and/or feed animals.
Besides the potential impact on the bottom line, farm folks don't seem terribly optimistic about how Obamacare will impact other aspects of their lives and health either. The same Top Producer story offered a quote from Jon Bailey, director of research and analysis at the Center for Rural Affairs: "I grew up on a farm. I know there is the perception in rural America that Obamacare is bad."
The article continued: "Results of a recent AgWeb poll support that statement. Of the more than 1,500 respondents, just 11 percent said they believe the health care act will improve coverage for their families, while 74 percent said the law would make it worse. Seven percent said the act would have no major effect on their family's insurance coverage, with an equal number saying they were not sure."
Be on the lookout as well for new FDA regulations, which will impact food processors and growers if the government gets its way.
According to James Marsden on Meatingplace, new proposed rules will require companies in the U.S. as well as those from other nations who sell foods here to develop science-based food safety plans and fruit and vegetable growers to adopt methods of growing and harvesting plant products to prevent contamination. From what I have been able to discover, the rules will first be placed on U.S. farms and companies, and then explored for foreign ones.
This seems not only unfair but counterproductive, as not only is our inspection and regulation system among the best in the world already, but many of our food-borne illness outbreaks are caused by imported foods, particularly meats from Canada. Perhaps if the FDA is to become involved in food regulation they should begin with imported foods, possibly by stepping up inspection at the border as well as increasing oversight at foreign plants and farms.
A case in point would be last year's disastrous e-coli outbreak, which came from the XL Foods plant in Alberta, Canada. At least 890,000 pounds of potentially contaminated beef entered this country from that source. Regulating American farms would have had little impact on that crisis, but increased oversight of imports might have made a meaningful difference. The affair was so serious that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency actually closed the offending plant for some weeks, crippling the local economy.
The public comment period for these proposals covers the next 120 days.
Congratulations to the Amsterdam High School Marching Rams and jazz band for their stellar performance at the presidential inauguration competition. Lest you think that such an event doesn't juxtapose with the world of farming, the good folks from whom we purchase hay and one of the milk company officials with whom we often have dealings were at the event with their families, watching their children participate. You have to be proud of Amsterdam, the children who did the whole region proud, and of the families who raised and supported them. According to the nice gentleman from the milk company, as band members and families were walking through a park in D.C., some smiling folks exclaimed, "Oh, there's Amsterdam," and gave them a rousing cheer.
Which they well deserved.
Don't miss the annual Caroga Lake outhouse race coming up at 11:30 on Feb. 17 on West Caroga Lake. Although young whippersnappers may never have had the edifying experience of employing outdoor plumbing in the winter, this event will clear up any misconceptions they may harbor about warmth and comfort or the lack thereof. Participants have the opportunity to enter their own racing outhouse, which must be 4-by-4-by-8 feet with three walls and two skis. No door is required. If a door is furnished, it must remain open. Teams consist of two pushers, two pullers, and one rider, who must be supplied with such essentials as Charmin or the equivalent thereof, and reading material. Observers enjoy the opportunity to laugh at them and/or cheer them on.
As a former resident of that lakeside town, I heartily recommend this event. I do not, however, recommend the real deal, which, alas, I am old enough to well remember.
Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS
is a regular columnist. She blogs