Farmers argue against irrigation tax
November 4th, 2010
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 so-called â€œoccupation taxâ€ 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 irrigatorsâ€™ 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 canâ€™t be used for state purposes. In court, irrigatorâ€™s lawyer Janelle Lust argued that her clients were really being asked to pay a property tax in disguise.
â€œIf they have land that is certified as irrigated,â€ she said, â€œwhether or not they got one drop of water, two inches of water, or got their entire allowable allocation, the occupation applies to them.â€
Don Blankenau, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Districts that were authorized to levy the tax, said farmers could avoid it if they donâ€™t irrigate.
â€œItâ€™s up to the individual to decide if theyâ€™re going to irrigate,â€ he said. â€œIf someone whoâ€™s part of an irrigation district believes they wonâ€™t get any irrigation water that coming year, they donâ€™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.â€
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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