Let’s start with a few givens.

No. 1: California grower-shippers and their employees produce a Mt. Everest of fresh fruits and vegetables every year — give or take a few tens of millions of cartons, about half of all the fresh produce eaten in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

California's red ink may torpedo growers

Don Schrack
Staff Writer

No. 2: Without those fruits and veggies from the Left Coast, the nation’s retail and food service industries would be hard-pressed to serve their customers.

No. 3: California is governed by idiots who can’t seem to find a program or service they won’t fund — even if they have to use borrowed money.

Yes, California is awash — again — in red ink. About $20 billion worth.

Not new in that land of loonies, says you in New Jersey, or Michigan, or Tennessee, or wherever. Why should I care?

Well, says I, because all that drunken sailor spending may empty your refrigerator.

Nearly a half-century ago when there were at least a few certifiably sane lawmakers in Sacramento, the Legislature passed the Williamson Act. It is designed to help perpetuate agriculture, an industry that now generates about $40 billion annually to the state’s economy.

The law eased the property tax burden on growers, providing they pledged to continue not to sell their land for housing developments or strip malls. In turn, they received a tax break.

In California, property taxes go to the county to provide essential services, i.e., law enforcement, fire protection, schools and the like. The Williamson Act mandated the state make the counties whole, to reimburse them for the monies not collected because of the growers’ reduced taxes.

Funding ag

In a sense, the law leveled the playing field for growers. Above and beyond all the other taxes growers pay just like everyone else, their fees are the primary source of funding for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

So the Williamson Act can be the difference between profit and closing the barn door. The reduced property taxes are making that difference on about 16 million California farmland acres.

We’re not talking about giant farming operations. In Fresno County, the state’s No. 1 ag county, some 6,000 growers benefit from the law.

You probably have already guessed what’s coming next.

Yes, lawmakers are trying to figure how to weasel out of paying for the Williamson Act.

Not for the first time, either. They whittled on the edges last year.

The state is beginning to pencil its budget for fiscal 2011. According to the state constitution (which the lawmakers usually ignore), the budget is to be set in stone by the end of June. So it is the perfect time for individuals and associations in California and across the country to put whatever pressure possible on the lawmakers.

The Williamson Act is good public policy. More important, it helps to feed the nation, a noble endeavor.

If Williamson Act funding goes away, not just a few California farmers and their fruits and vegetables may just go the way of the dinosaurs.

E-mail dschrack@thepacker.com

What do you think about the removal of Willamson Act agriculture funding? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.