We retired Tax Justice Blog in April 2017. For new content on issues related to tax justice, go to www.justtaxesblog.org
Every year around this time, lots of cutesy articles begin to appear listing a few bizarre tax breaks that you might be able to claim. We don’t necessarily want to jump on that bandwagon… but we just can’t help ourselves. If you live in Colorado, here’s one tax break you need to know about! See how this break is already saving Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell, and Goldie Hawn boatloads of money!
Lots of states and localities offer property tax breaks for farmland, and in Colorado, as it turns out, it’s pretty easy to become a farmer for tax purposes. According to The Denver Post, actor Tom Cruise pays a paltry $400 in tax on an $18 million, 248 acre tract of land because he lets “sheep graze around the mansions for brief periods each year.” Now, it’s certainly nice of Mr. Cruise to feed those sheep, but it sounds like Colorado may have gone a little overboard in attempting to encourage that behavior.
Rep. Tom Massey, a Republican, apparently agrees. Massey recently broke from his party by proposing a bill that would stop granting agricultural exemptions to residences unless the residence is integral to an agricultural operation. Farmers like Mr. Cruise could still enjoy the agricultural break on the portion of their land used for “farming,” but they would have to pay property taxes on their homes at the same rate as everyone else. If anything, it sounds like the bill doesn’t go far enough since it would still allow an enormous tax break on the vast majority of Mr. Cruise’s 248 acres, but most Republicans have lined up against the proposal anyway.
Frankly, the arguments in opposition to the bill have been almost as strange as the tax break itself. Rep. Chris Holbert, for example, complained that the bill would “change the rules and take more money out of [Coloradans’ pockets.]” Well, yeah, that’s what usually happens when a tax loophole is closed. But another group of lawmakers are claiming the bill is unnecessary because county assessors are already allowed to decide whether property should be classified as agricultural or residential.
So which is it? Is this bill “changing the rules” too much, or not at all? More than likely, the opposition has a lot more to do with politics than policy. In addition to Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell, and Goldie Hawn, The Denver Post’s (very incomplete) survey of questionable “farm owners” included a state senator, the state’s treasurer, an energy industry billionaire, a media mogul, and the chairman of Discovery Communications. Clearly, this is an issue that many lawmakers just don’t want to deal with.