Editorial: Of farms and fiscal policy

We’re so busy focusing on the amount of taxes that We the People have to pay that we often forget their purpose is more than simply to generate government revenue. Taxes also influence people’s behavior; for legally avoiding or lessening one’s tax liability is rational self-interest.

So it is that to encourage farming, as the newspaper’s front-page story reminds, the county’s real estate tax rate is substantially less for acreage that is in agricultural land use. This is arguably for the greater public good, since the county’s rural character is thereby reinforced and encouraged.

If only fiscal and farm policies were so straightforward in Big Washington! Instead, for the last couple of years, Congress hasn’t even been able to agree on a new bill to succeed long-ago-expired farm legislation. Now, finally, as the Rappahannock News goes to press, it appears that a compromise bill might actually be forthcoming from Senate and House negotiators in conference committee.

Any bill is probably better than no agricultural legislation at all, but this new bill by all accounts will continue to reward the wealthiest mega-farms with lavish subsidies and tax breaks at the expense of small farmers like those in Rappahannock County.

So the questions to be asked of our own representative in Congress, Rep. Robert Hurt, are these: Does he support small farmers, and more consumer access to affordable local, healthy and organic food? What about farmers’ markets (instead of industrial-scale farming operations) and healthier foods in our local schools?

Even though Rep. Hurt supposedly represents a predominantly rural Congressional district, the answer to all of these questions seems to be a resounding “no.” That “no” is based on his 13 votes that affect food issues, according to the nonprofit Food Policy Action. His scorecard, based on those votes, is a mere 15 out of 100. By comparison, fellow Republican Rep. Frank Wolf from the much less rural 10th District got a 62, and Democrat Rep. Robert Scott from Virginia’s 3rd District, urban and suburban, scored a perfect 100.

If local governments were similarly scored, Rappahannock County’s would deserve high grades as well.

Walter Nicklin