The drought became the key focus Wednesday in the only scheduled debate between Indiana’s candidates for lieutenant governor.
The candidates met at the Indiana State Fair to talk about a variety of issues relating to agriculture, as one of the lieutenant governor’s responsibilities is to serve as Secretary of Agriculture.
GOP candidate Sue Ellspermann praised the current relief efforts for farmers affected by the drought. The federal government led aid efforts, and Ellspermann says the state Department of Agriculture accelerated the process to get farmers access to assistance.
Democratic candidate Vi Simpson says the state is not ready to deal with disasters like the current drought. The state senator says she would establish a security council to develop disaster responses before they occur.
But Libertarian Party candidate Brad Klopfenstein cautioned against overreacting.
“Pretty much any farmer out there who wants crop insurance has that right now and I think that’s in place to take care of these disasters. That was preplanning, on a number of people’s parts, to get us there,” he says. “So I don’t think that we need to be reactionary and start dumping lots of money at a problem that already has a solution.”
The ethanol industry was another point of contention during the debate.
Up to 40 percent of U.S. corn crops could be needed to fulfill the federal government’s mandate for ethanol usage this year because of the drought. Klopfenstein says despite ethanol’s significance in the state, that level should fluctuate when corn production drops and prices skyrocket.
Ellspermann says a Pence-Ellspermann administration recognizes the important role ethanol plays in Indiana’s economy.
“There’s a balance that we can achieve in using biofuels as well as being able to keep up with foods and feed and all the other needs that are out there,” she says.
Simpson says improving distribution and expanding markets for ethanol is a key to the industry and says she and running mate John Gregg are ready to stand up to oil companies to accomplish that.
Property Taxes On Farmland
A rumble went through the crowd at the Farm Bureau Building when property taxes were mentioned. All three candidates talked about a need to adjust the state’s tax system.
Simpson says significant reform is needed in a formula that disproportionately hurts farmers.
“I would start by undoing the constitutional amendment that was added which puts into the constitution circuit breakers and the property tax caps of one, two and three percent because it unfairly shifts the burden to farmland and to commercial properties,” she says.
Klopfenstein largely agreed with Simpson. He says while farmers are paying more, they are not getting the same return because ” hogs do not go to school and corn does not need libraries.”
Ellspermann says she and running mate Mike Pence are committed to establishing the most competitive property tax structure in the Midwest.