Monday, October 22, 2007

A tax policy that is Farr from normal

It takes an issue of The Tennessee Cooperator to get me to notice that our pseudo-fascist Governor and Revenue Commissioner, not content with planting agents at the border to harass travelers who dare purchase a carton of cigarettes across State lines (as if nobody lives in Bristol, Clarksville, or Chattanooga, and has good reason to regularly shop across State lines), it seems that they-along with their Democratic friends in the Legislature-also decided that Tennesseans who raise their own food now have to pay taxes on it. If you do as Nicole and I do and raise some of your own food and sell some to others, you can no longer do it tax free after January 1.

Like many Tennesseans who live in rural areas, Nicole and I regularly shop at (and are members of) our local Tennessee Farmers' Cooperative. Not only is the Co-op the place to go for the equine supplies that Nicole needs, but all of our gardening, planting, and seed materials are bought there, because you simply can't get those things cheaper anywhere else. We even have a credit line through the Co-op, though we rarely use it. We also buy chicken feed (we raise hens and have our own fresh eggs), and we raise rabbits for meat. We often sell the rabbits, but the meat just as often goes into our freezer-we love rabbit meat and think it makes a fine meal.

Up to now, we've been allowed to purchase livestock feed tax free, as has everyone else who buys feed at their local Co-op, because Tennessee tax law says that livestock feed is not to be taxed. Contrary to popular belief, the clientèle who buy feed at the Co-op aren't just farmers who own large tracts of land to farm, but many people who are just like us-people whose yards are turned over to the animals-literally.

Now the State of Tennessee says we have to apply for a Certificate of Exemption from the Department of Revenue in order to buy feed without paying sales tax. That would be fine, except that they have attached the condition that you must "own land on which $1,000 or more of farm products were produced or sold during the last year." It may be that all-told we have produced $1,000 in rabbit meat-maybe-but considering the price of both rabbits and chickens, that would be difficult to prove.

What this is really going to mean is that the little man or woman who has the ability to raise some of their own food but they aren't in it to make money for themselves will now be taxed for the food they raise. That is what the State is really trying to do here. You aren't buying eggs at the grocery store because you raise your own hens. You don't buy as much meat because you raise your own chickens, rabbits, or other small livestock. The State does not get as much of your money, so they'll figure out a new way to take it: Tax the feed that you need to keep your little flocks/herds/colonies alive.

I spoke with my State Representative Frank Niceley about this and he was as angry as I was about it. He said that it was yet another example of government screwing over the little people to the advantage of Mr. Big. He pointed out that something far more sinister may be at work. The "national streamlined sales tax project," the "program" under which Tennessee is justifying these changes, was instituted as a "first step" in the late 90's to try and see if the internet could be taxed. In other words, if you don't live in a rural area and therefore think that this doesn't affect you, start thinking again.

There was a time when the Tennessee Farm Bureau could be relied upon to stand up for the little man and fight the State tooth and nail to prevent what amounts to a tax increase on people who raise their own food. The Farm Bureau hasn't done a lick to stop this from occurring, and the Tennessee Farmers' Cooperative hasn't done much to speak out either, merely to publish that the changes are coming.

Apparently, I pay Farm Bureau dues so that my lobbyists in Nashville can have my State Representative kicked off of the House Agriculture Committee (thereby less able to represent his heavily-agrarian district) because he opposed them on mandatory animal ID-as did any of us who know what H*ll that is. They then utterly fail to represent my interests on a key issue that directly impacts my daily affairs and the very sustenance I put in my body. Oh, what a joy to know your dues money is going to such good work!

As for the taxes I will have to pay on my rabbit and chicken feed come January-well, it isn't that I can't pay them, it is that I should not have to-but somewhere, there may be someone who really can't afford them. Their little hens are really helping keep them alive, and they really can't afford to pay any more for that feed.

Everyday people don't matter in Bredesen World, just the political heads of Phil and his friends.



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