JEKYLL ISLAND, GA. | The tax reform bill that the U.S. Senate approved a few days ago offers some good things for farmers and a conference committee will quickly iron out differences with the House version, U.S. Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter told Georgia Farm Bureau Federation delegates Monday.
Carter facetiously told the delegates at their 80th annual meeting on Jekyll Island there wasn’t much happening in Washington.
“We do have this little bill called tax reform,” he said, adding he had to get back to Washington on Monday afternoon to vote on members of a House-Senate conference committee that he predicted would quickly work out minor differences.
“We need tax reform. Right now, the tax code is twice as long as the Bible,” Carter said. “Unlike the Bible, there’s no good news in it.”
Some of the good news for farmers is in one of those minor differences, the estate tax. The House version would phase out the estate tax while the Senate bill would raise the exemption to $22 million. Currently, estates up to $5.5 million are exempt.
“Family farms have been impacted by estate taxes,” he told the delegates.
House members have said eliminating the so-called death tax would allow farmers to pass down family farms to children without heirs having to sell off parts of the operations to pay estate taxes.
Farmers would also benefit from reductions in corporate taxes because most are incorporated, he said.
Congress is also under pressure to adopt a spending bill, he told the delegates.
“By Friday, we have to come up with a spending bill or the government will shut down,” he said. “Let me assure you that is not going to happen.”
Gov. Nathan Deal also addressed the federation and said Georgia’s unemployment rate is now down to 4.2 percent after hovering at 10.4 percent during what some are calling the Great Recession..
There were jobs available in Georgia at the time, but the state didn’t have a work force with the skills to fill them, Deal said.
The state identified j0b categories in which workers were needed and began providing tuition at the state technical colleges to educate workers to fill them. Come Jan. 1 when some new categories are brought on line, Georgia will have 17 categories, he said.
“If someone will go to one of our technical colleges and get a diploma or certificate” in one of those categories, Deal said, “we’ll pay 100 percent of their tuition.”
The need for certified welders has long been a need, but another one, electrical line crew workers, also came to the forefront and was very critical after tropical storm systems slammed into Georgia two straight years.
“If not for neighboring states sending in crews, we would have been without power much longer,” Deal said.
A survey showed that nearly 89 percent of those with certificates or diplomas through the program got jobs in the categories for which they trained and that almost all the rest had gotten jobs of some kind.
“Now that’s what we really want, isn’t it?” Deal asked.
Georgia farmers have done well in recent years although it remains to be seen how President Trump’s backing out of trade deals will affect exports, but farmers still have to deal with natural hazards.
One of Georgia’s hot commodities, pecans, has been hit hard two years in a row by tropical storms. Hurricane Matthew devastated orchards in 2016 and Tropical Storm Irma caused damage farther inland this year, Irma seemed intent on hitting farmers Matthew missed. “We lost about 30 percent of the crop,” said Samantha McLeod, executive director of the Georgia Pecan Growers Association. “This year, it was looking to be a bumper crop.”
Growers were expected to harvest about 115 million pounds, the largest crop in the country, but Irma blew nuts off trees, broke limbs and uprooted trees, McLeod said,
The worst damage was across the south-central part of the state beginning around Valdosta and stretching north through Fort Valley and Perry, but no pecan farmer was spared, she said.
“Ultimately, every pecan orchard got affected,” McLeod said.
Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405