California budget restores partial Williamson Act funding

Oct 29, 2010
by WLJ

California Assemblyman Bill Berryhill announced last week that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not veto out partial Williamson Act funding restoration in this year’s budget, which was requested by Berryhill and other rural legislators.

Berryhill noted, “I am relieved that the governor recognized the importance of this vital program and decided to keep it as part of this year’s budget package. It means the difference of life and death for many family farms and ranches.”

Since Williamson Act funding has been deleted from the two previous budgets, many counties have been considering getting rid of the program altogether, which would cost many farmers and ranchers millions of dollars in higher taxes and cause many to have to sell their land and go out of business.

During its peak, the total state funding for the Williamson Act was under $40 million. This year’s budget restored $10 million of that money, just to keep counties’ programs solvent for now, but if funding is not fully restored in future budgets, the program will again be in peril.

Created in 1965, the Williamson Act provides subventions to counties that assess lower property tax rates for family farms and ranches that would otherwise be charged higher commercial rates (saving them anywhere from 20 to 75 percent in annual property tax), a cost that such small businesses could not sustain.

In exchange for the benefit, landowners agree to keep their land in agricultural production, and not develop it. There are an estimated 16.5 million acres of land enrolled in the program.

Beryhill added, “I am pleased that rural legislators and agricultural advocates were able to come together and save this invaluable program. It was a truly bipartisan effort. I am hopeful that the next governor will also understand the importance of this program. Without it, there would be a major hit to the small, multigeneration family farms and ranches that helped make the Central Valley what it is today.” — WLJ