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Farmer-friendly state tax exemptions, credits illustrate the good government can do

Let’s talk for a moment about a concept that has become foreign in the eyes of many today — good government.

That’s right, good government, the kind that serves the taxpayer well.

In recent elections, more so than at any other time in our history, candidates seem to be running for elected office in direct opposition to the government. “The government” has become as much of a villain in political circles as “liberals” or “taxes.”

Candidates and public office holders alike speak frequently about “getting the government off your back,” or “getting the government out of your business,” but what are they really talking about?

Such talk has been especially common during this election year. But then, just days before voters went to the polls in November, Hurricane Sandy battered the nation’s East Coast, and “the government,” in the form of FEMA, suddenly was being praised by both Republicans and Democrats for its quick response to the storm.

If you happened to be victim of the storm, big government in the form of disaster relief was a Godsend.

We can all agree that there are instances where the government — at the local, state and federal levels — has over-reached. But to cast it as the root and cause of all problems is just pure laziness, and not becoming of a public office-holder, or of one who seeks to hold elective office.

Voting for a candidate for public office who doesn’t at the very least believe in the concept of a centralized government is akin to hiring an environmental activist to oversee your farm.

Nothing personal against them or their beliefs, but their lack of faith and confidence in the system in which they’re working would preclude them from being successful.

So why has demonizing the government become such a popular pastime for some? The answer is fairly simple — it’s easier than solving the complex problems that face us all.

 For example, it’s easier to make continuous across-the-board budget cuts than it is to roll up your sleeves and come up with creative solutions for solving budget shortfalls.

And it’s easier to call the government bloated than to acknowledge that maybe its role has changed, and that such a change requires different strategies from those used in the past.

This past year, state legislators in both Alabama and Georgia gave us renewed hope that government can do good, especially when elected officials are willing to listen to their constituents and work across party lines to make good law.

Even more rare than the bipartisanship displayed was the fact that in both cases, the primary recipients were farmers, a group often ignored within the halls of governance.

This past May, the Alabama Legislature approved and the governor signed into law a bill that provides tax incentives to farmers who adopt irrigation technology.

The new law provides that farmers who install new or who improve existing on-farm irrigation systems can receive a one-time state income tax credit totaling up to 20 percent of the cost, to a maximum of $10,000.

But the legislation didn’t happen overnight. Behind the law is a decade of collaborative and comprehensive research conducted through the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station at Auburn University in cooperation with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the University of Alabama and Alabama A&M and Tuskegee universities.

Those studies have shown the economic benefits of using irrigation on Alabama crops, and a long-term boost to the state’s general economy.

And in Georgia, a tax exemption for farmers that will take effect on Jan. 1, 2013, is expected to put an extra $72 million into the pockets of the state’s agricultural producers over the next two and a half years.

Georgia farmers have long had exemptions for feed, seed, fertilizer, chemicals and equipment, but this legislation expands the exemptions to include additional inputs, including electricity and fuels used in agricultural production.

Again, this was not something that was accomplished easily or quickly. The Georgia Farm Bureau worked with other agricultural groups and state legislators for almost three years before the proposed tax exemption became the law of the land.

The bill passed by an overwhelming margin and enjoyed wide bipartisan support.

In addition to the fact that both of these pieces of legislation primarily benefitted farmers, they also had a couple of other things in common — they required due diligence and bipartisan support — two qualities that are rare in politics today.

Perhaps there’s a blueprint here for the possibilities of good government.

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