Senator seeks tax exemption for grain, livestock

Friday, December 19, 2003

While Missouri ranks among the nation's top cattle-producing states, you'd never know it based on the number of animals listed on the tax rolls as personal property, according to one area senator.

Missourians are supposed to report the amount of livestock and grain they own on their annual personal property disclosure forms, but state Sen. Bill Foster said the requirement is more honored in the breach rather than the observance.

That is why Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, is proposing a constitutional amendment that would exempt livestock and grain from personal property taxes.

"Basically people are not reporting it," Foster said. "We've got some assessors who try to verify it, but it is too hard to do. If you can't verify it, don't try to tax it."

Cape Girardeau County assessor Jerry Reynolds said $66,000 in property taxes were collected from livestock in 2002.

He agreed with Foster that verifying livestock is a difficult task.

"It's based on the number of livestock you have on the first day of the year and that's just impossible to audit," Reynolds said.

Foster's measure would add livestock and grain to the list of items that are already constitutionally exempt from personal property taxes, such as inventory held for resale, household goods, furniture and clothing.

The Missouri Legislature will consider the amendment when the 2004 legislative session begins Jan. 7. If endorsed by lawmakers, Missouri voters would have to ratify it in November.

According to the State Tax Commission, Missourians reported livestock worth an assessed value of $157.2 million and grain worth a little more than $1 million in 2002. Those amounts translated into roughly $9.7 million in combined state and local tax revenue.

Perry County Assessor Larry White said such items are underreported but omissions are difficult to catch.

"There is no way for an assessor to count every head of cattle," White said.

However, White said he wouldn't advocate doing away with the tax on livestock and grain unless a new funding source was established to offset the revenue loss.

Foster said he would be open to retaining the tax for "mega-producers" while providing the exemption to small farmers. But on the whole, he said the tax just doesn't make sense.

"It's been on the books for years, and it's never worked," Foster said.

The measure is SJR 36.

Staff writer Bob Miller contributed to this report.

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