Earlier this week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that would reinstitute important parts of the Williamson Act. The act, which was originally passed in 1965, was an attempt to protect California farmland from overdevelopment and suburban sprawl. At the time, California, along with many other agricultural states, was losing significant acres of farmland to residential growth, endangering the state’s economy.
The Williamson Act provides property tax relief to California farmers who pledge to prevent the land from being developed or converted to non-agricultural use for ten years. Local municipalities, which forgo property tax revenue, are granted additional revenue from the state, which is the ultimate financial backer of the Act.
The Williamson Act, however, was threatened by California’s latest budget bill. The budget proposed by Governor Brown stripped state funding to the Williamson Act, leaving local counties and municipalities to shoulder the financial burden of conservation alone. Given that about half of California’s farmland, over 16 million acres, is currently under Williamson contracts, the loss of state funding could have been devastating.
In part due to pressure from the Farm Bureau and quick, bipartisan action by both Democrats and Republicans in the California Assembly, legislation was passed reinstituting the subvention program (the funding support by the state government), helping to guarantee that the program will continue to preserve and protect California agriculture.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer