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Five-term Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue speaks at the 76th Annual Oregon Farm Convention. Bushue also is vice president of the American Farm Bureau. - Mitch Lies/Capital Press
Farm Bureau keeps eye on lawmakers
Bushue touches on estate taxes, union organizing laws and grass seed burning

Mitch Lies, Capital Press 12/11/2008

LINCOLN CITY, Ore. - During a sweeping president's report at the Oregon Farm Bureau's 76th annual convention here Tuesday, Dec. 9, five-term Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue said new, Democratic-controlled legislative bodies in Oregon and in Washington, D.C., present stiff challenges for agriculture.

Bushue, who also is vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said he expects President-elect Barack Obama and the new Congress to adopt an aggressive agenda beginning in January.

Among several items being watched closely by the American Farm Bureau, Bushue said, is an estate tax due to be reinstated in 2011 with a top tax rate of 55 percent and with a $1 million exemption.

In 2009, only families exceeding $3.5 million in gross assets are subject to the federal estate tax. The tax is due to expire in 2010 for one year.

"Congress will hopefully choose to address the estate taxes in 2009, rather than allow the repeal to take effect in 2010 as it is scheduled to do," Bushue said.

Bushue said the American Farm Bureau also is anticipating Congress to adopt the controversial Employee Free Choice Act, which would strip employees of the right to a secret ballot to determine whether they want to unionize.

"Instead ballots will be replaced with so-called "card check," replacing freedom of choice with the potential for intimidation," Bushue said.

"I wonder if members of Congress who have indicated they will vote for this egregious legislation would like their own elections determined by cards signed at coffee shops across the U.S.

"Good public policy is often trumped by politics," Bushue said. "These labor issues have been cases in point and will likely continue to be."

Bushue also addressed concerns surrounding the proposed rule to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from dairies and other confined animal feeding operations.

CAFOs have been caught up in efforts by the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. While the EPA has indicated it has no desire to regulate CAFO emissions in its final rule, the AFBF is watching the proceedings closely and weighing in on the rule's possible effects on agriculture, Bushue said.

"Their currently are no administrative rules or legislative proposals to make this happen, but the Farm Bureau would be remiss if it did not keep ahead of this curve," Bushue said. "We want to make sure that even if EPA does not want to regulate us, that activists do not litigate them into doing so."

On a state level, Bushue said he was discouraged to see Gov. Ted Kulongoski include fees to eliminate field burning in his proposed budget.

"Despite full discussions by the Legislature this past session - who did not pass legislation on this issue - and a full investigation by the governor's own Environmental Quality Commission - that found insufficient data to show a need for a ban - the governor has ignored these public policy bodies and is going it alone. (He is) including the expenditure of scarce dollars more urgently needed elsewhere."

Bushue also said it has been difficult for the state Farm Bureau to embrace the governor's climate change agenda, particularly in light of the fact the Bureau has been thwarted in attempts to get better representation on the governor's climate change task force.

"Our repeated request for better representation of agriculture producers on the task force has been largely ignored," he said.

"These and other actions by the executive branch are particularly frustrating considering our huge efforts to help the governor pass Measure 49," Bushue said.

"In addition to working to further the education of legislators on the value of agriculture, we are going to have to continue to increase our efforts to try and engage the executive branch as well."

"We need them to understand the link between the land and the necessity for all of the other tools needed to continue to produce the world's safest and most affordable food supply."

Staff writer Mitch Lies is based in Salem. E-mail: mlies@capitalpress.com.
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