Williamson Act Funding - Fighting a Line Item Veto
By Steve Keil, Interim Executive Director
The Williamson Act subventions are in danger of disappearing from this year’s State Budget. A rumor circulating around the State Capitol has indicated the Governor intends to line item veto funding for Williamson Act subventions. The Williamson Act is the broadest based agricultural conservation program in the state.
The Governor, in his May Revision of the Budget, originally zeroed out approximately $39 million for subventions to counties for property tax losses incurred by enrolling agricultural land in Williamson Act. The Governor’s reasoning behind this decision was that counties are more than capable of maintaining this program through their increased property tax revenue. However, property tax revenue has dropped considerably in many parts of the state as a result of the cooling of the housing market, and counties are reliant on these subventions.
Enacted in 1969, the Williamson Act is a voluntary program, which provides lower property taxes to agricultural landowners in exchange for their contractual commitments with participating cities or counties to keep their land in agricultural or open space uses for at least 10 years. In 1998, the Act was amended to provide for the establishment of the Farmland Security Zones, commonly referred to as the Super Williamson Act. Under this program, landowners receive an additional tax reduction if they keep their property in the conservation program for at least 20 years.
Both cities and counties have relied on the Williamson Act to support general plan and zoning objectives, prevent leapfrog development and promote orderly growth. Today, nearly one-third of all the privately owned land in the state is enrolled in a Williamson Act contract. Those 16 million acres constitute more than one-half of the state's 29 million acres of farm and ranchland. Given local budgetary conditions, local governments will be unable to continue to utilize this important planning tool without the existing financial incentive.
CSAC has issued an alert to counties asking for their support and urging counties to contact the Governor’s office and their legislative delegation to ensure support for Williamson Act subventions. CSAC will continue to work with other stakeholders in dissuading a line-item veto by the Governor. The preservation of agricultural lands and open space is not just a local priority; it is – and must remain – a state priority. Please state your opposition to the elimination of Williamson Act subventions as soon as possible.