Why I want to End the Oregon Death Tax…

I have been working on a campaign to End the Oregon Death Tax for about 6 months now.  It all started when I got wind of a small gathering in my town to talk about the death tax and an initiative that was hopefully going to make it to the ballot this coming November (with a lot of work, signature gathering, money, etc.)  I feel like I’m a fairly informed person, I love to learn and read and try very hard to keep up on what is going on, especially when it comes to issues that are close to the agricultural industry.  So when I heard a lot of facts about the death tax in Oregon, I realized that this issue was much more detrimental and harmful than I ever expected.

I know that I have written a blog about this issue already (as have many of my friends) but I feel as though lately I’m getting more and more questions about why this is important and more and more statements from people about why farmers have never been and aren’t going to be effected by this and it’s all about big rich terrible slimy investors saving in taxes.  I’m sick of people asking me how much my farm is worth, and then telling me that there is no way I will reach an exemption.  I’m sick of people looking at the death tax as a non-issue just because it doesn’t affect them since they aren’t millionaires.  So here you go, all you naysayers!  Here is my honest story about why the Death Tax WILL affect me someday.
  1. To those who say farmers have never been and won’t ever be affected…
    I personally know of farms that have been split up because of the death tax liability.  They have had to sell off portions of their farm, split up a family business, and take huge hits personally because of a death of a parent.  To those who want specific examples, that is as specific as I will get because it’s their story to tell. 
  2. To those who want to know how much my farm is worth and if I will reach the exemption…
    I want to give you an example of a typical farm in my area. 1000 acres of prime farm ground, market value can be upwards of $10k-15k per acre.  Right off the bat with only the land, not including buildings, houses, shop equipment, harvesting equipment, large tractors, trucks, etc, you are hitting $12 million dollars.  So let’s say that both parents die, and the agricultural exemption (even though no one can really explain it to me clearly) is at $7.5million per person.  If we take a conservative land value amount along with all the other things involved in running a farm you’re still left with about $3 million that is taxable, usually at a rate around 10%.  Are you still doing the math?  It’s $300,000…in cash…that you and your siblings as heirs have to pay to the state within 9 months.  Do you have that kind of cash??  Or do you expect a farm to have that kind of cash when over farms are usually very leveraged against that land just to make their operating loans every year?  And just as a reminder, majority of these farms are generational, so as it is in my case, more than likely the family a generation before has already paid the tax on that same base of land.
  3. Death Tax is a non-issue and won’t affect anyone other than millionaires…
    This tax, doesn’t just tax the rich, it inhibits and discourages successful business to come into our state.  Oregon is becoming an increasingly business unfriendly state and I think this is another way that we can start to turn that around.  You can’t have a healthy economy without jobs, and you can’t have jobs without businesses willing to come in, invest in our state, and plan to stay for the long haul.  I can’t move my business, but I have to tell you that after paying income taxes, after dealing with measure 66 and 67, there is a large part of me that wishes I could pick up my soil and move it to a state that sees the common sense piece that in Oregon we are missing.  I am not a millionaire, my dad is not a millionaire, and my grandfather was not a millionaire.  We are farmers who just want to be able to farm the soil that generations of blood sweat and tears have given to us.
As you can see I’m passionate about this issue because I honestly see it as a true road block for my future here in Oregon agriculture.  Please take the time to look at the issue, contact me if you have questions and I will try to help to clarify, and please help us to get this out of our state so we can start healing and making Oregon’s economy better for family business.  Also just fyi…signed petitions are due July 6th!

How I got here today….

I took a trip last weekend back down to some old stomping grounds.  LA LA Land, what I affectionately call Los Angeles, was my home for four years while I was getting my undergrad degree at Loyola Marymount Univeristy.  Strange perhaps considering about all you can farm down there is concrete and pigeons, but it was a decision that I made while still 18, impulsive, craving adventure and making sure that my next life step was not going to be in the confines of Oregon’s borders!  Because when I say I’m from a small town, I don’t mean 10,000 people, or 5,000…St. Paul, according to its outdated population signs on the outskirts of town read a mere 322!  So maybe you can understand why a glitzy and glamorous place like Los Angeles would sound like just the place for this small town farmer’s daughter.

How could you not want to go to school here?!

So I was sitting there on the plane this past weekend, about to touch down in LA, and I realized that as much as I was ready to leave when my four years was up, I have to give some credit where credit is due to this thriving city.  As I was walking off the plane and took that first big deep breath of humid, probably smog injected air, and heard a car horn honk, a part of me felt like it was home.  I did a lot of changing while I was down south.  Not only did I get a great degree in Business, circumnavigated the globe on a ship, and made some amazing friends.  But I also learned how much I loved having seasons, how being dirty in the summer is oddly a necessity for me, that I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer, and that my true calling and passion wasn’t something that I was going to find in LA, it was something that was waiting for me back home.

A few of the wonderful friends that I met!

The credit that is due to LA however is that I’m not sure I would have ever found this appreciation for farming and rural life if I hadn’t left and gone to the extreme opposite type of place.  Rural life, when it’s all you know, it doesn’t seem that great.  You are in a place where it’s a bit boring, and you know everyone and their dog (literally).  But then once you experience life in other places, like the big city, I was shocked to be surprised when I didn’t know someone, annoyed that there were people everywhere, and overwhelmed by all the activity!!  Don’t get me wrong, I got used to this type of life, it just took awhile!  And in the end it was true…”You can take the girl out of the honky tonk…but you can’t take the honky tonk out of the girl”  And it showed, because there were times you just can’t hide where you come from.  For instance when your nice pair of heels is a pair of cowboy boots and you’re just not sure why this is so strange to all your new friends in the dorm.  Or when you say something like, “Oh my gosh the funniest thing happened to me while I was combining in the field last summer!”  And your new roommate responds with, “What were you combining together?”  (always followed by a lengthy description of a piece of harvesting equipment that we use during harvest).  All in all people loved hearing about “The Farm”.  It was a part of me that came to define much of who I was down there.  I was the farmer, and I loved it, and it reminded me that it was ok to love it, embrace it, and be proud.  I realized that my original decision to be brave and go face the scary unknown of the city, just brought me right back to what I’ve always known.

These girls are going to kill me for posting this classic picture!! Love you Ladies!

So when I visit now, I’m glad it’s just a visit.  This slower way of life is addicting and I’m amazed at how tough it is for me to adjust back to a fast paced life, let alone the driving (will someone please teach Californians how to use blinkers?!)  But it always brings me back to those days when I first realized that what I truly wanted was where I had been, and where I was going was all because of this slimy, gritty, beautiful, concrete town by the beach where I found who I was truly supposed to be all along.

Life Lesson from Corn

As I continue down the path of being the next in my family to take over our farming operation, it seems like responsibilities continue to pile on. Usually I’m getting a handle on one thing, when something new comes up and seems to overwhelm me again and the cycle continues. I’m not complaining about this cycle, I know that I have a lot to learn about this whole farming thing, and I love that I’m always learning and growing. So did you know…corn roots grow over six feet down into the ground?!! By stressing the plants, farmers are able to persuade corn roots to grow further into the ground to get nutrients. In other words by stressing the corn, you get a great root system that helps keep the plant strong and growing throughout the season.

I think of this in relation to my life, growing up and now living back there and trying to grow as a woman, farmer, and business person. As my responsibilities become larger and larger, I’m finding that stress is coming right along with all of that. It’s stress that I know will subside as I get better at my new jobs in our operation, but recently it’s been really getting to me. We recently got a new linear irrigation system, one that I’m in charge of learning how to run, running, and taking care of. Well ever since the darn thing started running I’ve been getting up 2 or 3 times a night in a panic, having a dream that the linear was walking out across the prairie with nothing stopping it! Although in reality it would hit many many trees if it did start to walk away; it doesn’t matter, it’s 3am and I’m in a panic! I also have been known to sleep walk and talk, so I’m just waiting for the night that I wake up walking out my door, screaming for the linear to stop, and headed out across the prairie!!

So when I heard this little corn fact the other day; that farmers actually stress corn to make their roots grow deep and strong so that they can produce more corn and more food per plant, I had to smile. I think that’s exactly what I’m going through right now! Although I’m not having a ball waking up in the middle of the night worrying about what is going on out in the field, I know that my roots are growing deeper as I become more and more responsible for things on the farm. This is what I want, and someday the linear won’t be what keeps me up at night, it will be something else that I probably can’t even imagine up right now. The linear…”Ha” I’ll scoff, “piece of cake!”

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