Gross Idea Meets Memorable Message

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In Illinois, surviving in the state’s contentious political climate forces an association such as ours to define itself in meaningful ways in order to get its image, mission, and policies across to legislators and regulators in a way that is memorable to them. And we mean memorable in a positive light.

When the words “fertilizer and chemical” appear in your association name, some might say that is a challenge. But the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association (IFCA) board of directors and members feel proud of what they do every day to serve their customers, the consumer, and their communities. Maybe our association isn’t politically correct, but we know who we are. We believe that with the right attitude, dedication to compliance, and a good environmental track record, we will continue to cultivate the trust and respect of government officials and the general public. But everyone needs to freshen up their image once in a while, which IFCA did recently.

Supply/Service/Stewardship are the words and the image that IFCA has chosen to identify itself and to represent what its members provide every day to their customers and to the industry as a whole. While Illinois is a major ag state, the business climate is not always what we wish it could be, or should be. A staggering state budget deficit and a large urban population base in Chicago continually force the legislature to look at creative ways to plug budget gaps and to expand government programs for a diverse population. Although agriculture is by far the largest industry in the state, those who work and vote on behalf of ag and rural communities account for less than 5% of the state’s population.

The Latest Challenge

This year, our governor is proposing to tax the gross receipts of all Illinois businesses that supply goods, as well as applying an additional tax on services. For manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers, the gross receipts tax is 0.5%. For services, it is 1.8%.

In an industry of high volume, low margins, and services that are expected but not always appreciated, this proposal is devastating. It is devastating to all industries at the levels being proposed. Despite the belief of some — including the governor — that a gross receipts tax can be diluted by business and passed along to the consumer (for us, the grower), our association and its members know that doesn’t work in the ag input business.

Our association will be fighting this proposal just as it fought, and won, a proposal in 2004 to apply the state sales tax to agricultural inputs. I’m sure the five states that neighbor Illinois are watching closely. Our association has nothing against ag input suppliers in Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, and Kentucky, but frankly we are opposed to giving them a competitive advantage and the ability to cross the state border and sell fertilizer, chemicals, seed, feed, fuel, and equipment in Illinois, free of tax obligation, when our members are shouldered with it.

So it comes back again to this: Supply/Ser­vice/Stewardship. IFCA will be telling its legislators that our members can’t competitively supply product with a gross receipts tax burden. They can’t offer professional service with an additional service tax burden. They can’t promote stewardship when stripped of the financial ability to maintain environmentally sound facilities and hire professionals to apply crop protection products in a judicious manner. Legislators will hopefully realize that someone will be meeting the needs of the Illinois grower. Should it be the IFCA members that believe in stewardship and enhance the economic climate of their local community or should it be someone from another state that hasn’t made an investment in Illinois?

Our association will be working diligently to present its arguments. I trust that this message will be heard by our legislators and that it will be memorable to them as they prepare to vote on the state budget this spring.

Payne is president of the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association, Bloomington, IL.

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