The governor’s bad cut

Speaking of farming, we note that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating an important funding source for rural counties—a move that could jeopardize family farms.

The $40 million he wants to cut goes to counties so they can afford to protect farm lands under terms of the California Land Conservation Act, more commonly known as the Williamson Act, after the former Kern County lawmaker who wrote it. The act gives farmers a reduced property tax break so they can keep their land in production, on condition that they do so for the length of each contract, 10 years. The funding goes to counties as subventions for their lost property-tax revenues.

Currently some 16.5 million acres of land are enrolled in the program, half of all ag land in the state. Butte County receives $650,000, a significant amount, and such poor counties as Glenn and Tehama receive up to $1 million, according to information from Assemblyman Rick Keene’s office.

Without the subventions, many counties could be forced to reassess the land at full market value, putting pressure on farmers to sell to developers. At a time when the Central Valley is growing apace, this could be disastrous.

When the state passed the Williamson Act in 1965, it made a promise to the counties and the landowners. By cutting this funding, the state would be going back on that promise—and causing irreparable environmental damage in the bargain. Legislators must insist that the funding be retained.