Last month, Governor Scott Walker picked Horsens Homestead Farms as the ideal place to sign his property tax relief bill.
Why? According to Walker, "for a lot of farmers, property taxes are some of the biggest things they pay, overall... so a typical family will see a $100, but farmers will see far more because obviously they have a much bigger proportion of property."
True enough, but what Walker fails to mention is that farmers already have had decade after decade of property tax relief and they pay a small fraction of their property's value compared to the average homeowner. Similar tactics in the area of manufacturing have shifted the burden of property taxes to middle class homeowners and non-manufacturing/non-ag businesses.
And the poster child Walker has chosen--Horsens Homestead Farms--couldn't be a more ridiculous choice. The Horsens own nearly a thousand acres and a large dairy facility worth approximately four million dollars. If this were a "regular" property taxed at the regular rate, Horsens would owe somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000 a year in property taxes. However, because farmers get a much lower equalized value on their farmland, they pay less than half of that -about $18,000 a year in property taxes, according to information available at Shawano County Land Records.
But $18K a year is still a lot for a struggling farmer to make ends meet, right? Not really. According to the Environmental Working Group's database on farm subsidies, which has data up to 2012, Horsens Homestead Farms received $35,793 in government subsidies in 2012 and owner Jeff Horsens has received a grand total of $575,735 since 1995.
According to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle, this puts Horsens well within the top 10 ten percent of agri-businesses, which receive the vast majority of agriculture subsidies. In contrast, the bottom 80 percent of farmers only receive an average of $594 a year in subsidies.
Actually, on second thought, Horsens is the perfect choice to highlight Walker's tax policy: Giving more tax relief to those that are already getting a sweetheart tax deal at the expense of the Wisconsin middle class tax payer who increasingly is the one getting stuck with the bill.