Farmers argue against irrigation tax

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November 4th, 2010

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Lincoln, NE – Farmers who irrigate in the southern Nebraska Republican River valley took their arguments against a special tax to the Nebraska Supreme Court Wednesday.

The Republican River, just south of Cambridge, Nebraska (Photo courtesy Ammodramus, Wikimedia Commons)

The so-called “occupation tax” is $10 per irrigated acre. The Legislature approved it in 2007 to help Natural Resources Districts pay to remove vegetation from streams and to buy up some irrigators’ rights to use water. Those are measures intended to let Nebraska send enough Republican River water downstream to Kansas to comply with an interstate compact. The 2007 legislation also authorized a property tax for the same purposes. But that was declared unconstitutional, since property taxes can’t be used for state purposes. In court, irrigator’s lawyer Janelle Lust argued that her clients were really being asked to pay a property tax in disguise.

“If they have land that is certified as irrigated,” she said, “whether or not they got one drop of water, two inches of water, or got their entire allowable allocation, the occupation applies to them.”

Don Blankenau, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Districts that were authorized to levy the tax, said farmers could avoid it if they don’t irrigate.

“It’s up to the individual to decide if they’re going to irrigate,” he said. “If someone who’s part of an irrigation district believes they won’t get any irrigation water that coming year, they don’t have to certify it as irrigated. They can opt out of this tax by simply going to the county assessor and changing the…classification of the land for that year.”

The lawsuit is one of several fronts in the ongoing battle over Republican River water. While the Nebraska Supreme Court mulls its decision, Kansas has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up its complaints against Nebraska. That court has not yet indicated if it will do so.

For more stories from NET News about the ongoing fight over the Republican River, click here.

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