The Williamson Act subvention payments have been on a hiatus for the past year, but the recent state budget signed by Governor Schwarzenegger included one-quarter of the funding owed to California counties. The 2010-2011 state budget included $10 million of the nearly $35 million owed to counties each year for the preservation of productive agricultural lands.
North State Assemblyman Jim Nielsen authored Assembly Bill 2535 (AB 2535), which was passed this legislative season and signed by the Governor. This bill allows California counties to voluntarily implement new Williamson Act contracts that are 10 percent shorter, in return for a 10 percent reduction in the landowner’s property tax relief. This provision would need a majority vote from the Board of Supervisors and would only be permitted in years when the state does not appropriate more than half of the Williamson Act subventions payments owed to California counties.
In last years budget, Governor Schwarzenegger only appropriated $1,000 for Williamson Act subventions payments to counties. This action prompted local government, farmers and those concerned about the future of the Williamson Act to take drastic measures to save this successful program. Some counties considered not renewing any Williamson Act contacts after their term expired, which would have phased out the program in certain California counties.
Shortly after the passage of AB2535 the Governor signed the budget “trailer” bill (Senate Bill 863) that restored partial funding to the Williamson Act. Senate Bill 863 also contained some changes to recently passed AB 2535 and added an urgency clause which allows counties to implement the Williamson Act contract changes as early as 2011.
Currently, the Williamson Act protects more that 16.5 million acres of farmland. The Act gives farmers and ranchers a reduction in property taxes in exchange for keeping their land in agriculture. The 45-year-old program is the most successful agriculture preservation program in the state.
This recent budget and passage of AB 2535 and SB 863 sends a message that even during difficult economic times our state is dedicated to protecting our state’s $30 billion dollar agricultural industry.■
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