2017 - 2018 LEGISLATURE
April 20, 2017 - Introduced by Senators Ringhand, L. Taylor, Carpenter, Shilling,
Vinehout and Wirch, cosponsored by Representatives Spreitzer, Considine,
Berceau, Billings, Bowen, Crowley, Doyle, Fields, Genrich, Hesselbein,
Kessler, Kolste, Meyers, Ohnstad, Pope, Quinn, Sargent, Shankland,
Subeck, Vruwink and Zamarripa. Referred to Committee on Universities and
1An Act to amend
15.01 (4) and 227.01 (1); and to create
15.137 (7), 20.235 (1) 2
(em), 39.52 and 71.05 (6) (b) 53. of the statutes; relating to: creating a program
3for reimbursing the higher education debt of small farm operators, creating an
4individual income tax deduction for certain amounts received from such a
5program, granting rule-making authority, making an appropriation, and
6providing a penalty.
Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau
This bill establishes a program for reimbursing certain individuals who operate
small farms for their higher education debt. Under the bill, an individual is eligible
for reimbursement if he or she 1) graduated from an accredited public or nonprofit
institution that awards associate or baccalaureate degrees; 2) completed a farm and
industry short course offered by the University of Wisconsin System; or 3) obtained
a technical college diploma or certificate in agriculture or a field related to
agriculture. However, no more than 30 percent of the amount appropriated for the
program in a fiscal year may be used to reimburse individuals who completed a farm
and industry short course or obtained the technical college diploma or certificate
described above. Debt is not eligible for reimbursement if it is reimbursed, assumed,
or paid for under another program.
The bill defines “small farm" as a farm with annual gross cash farm income that
is not less than $35,000 nor more than $500,000 or 140 percent of the maximum
amount for a small farm under the typology of the economic research service of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, whichever is greater. Whether a farm qualifies as
a small farm is determined at the time an individual first receives a reimbursement
payment under the program.
The bill creates a five-member council in the Department of Agriculture, Trade
and Consumer Protection, called the Small Farm Higher Education Debt Council,
which must establish the program and has rule-making power. The council consists
of the secretary of agriculture, trade and consumer protection or his or her designee
and the chancellor of the UW-Extension or his or her designee. The secretary
appoints the following other members for three-year terms: 1) an individual who
administers or participates or cooperates in programs of the Farm Service Agency
of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; 2) a representative of agricultural lenders;
and 3) a representative of higher education loan providers or servicers. The bill
requires DATCP to provide administrative support to the council.
For an individual to be eligible for reimbursement, the council must find that
he or she satisfies the above educational requirements and that he or she is a state
resident whose primary occupation is to operate a small farm. Also, to be eligible,
the individual must begin to operate a small farm no later than five years after
obtaining an associate or baccalaureate degree, completing a farm and industry
short course, or obtaining the technical college diploma or certificate. In addition,
the individual must intend to operate a small farm for at least five years after
applying to the council for reimbursement. An individual is not eligible for
reimbursement if another individual who also operates the small farm obtains
reimbursement under the program.
The bill requires the Higher Educational Aids Board to enter into agreements
with individuals whom the council finds satisfy the eligibility requirements. HEAB
must find that the repayment period of each student that is reimbursed under the
program does not exceed ten years, and, for a federal student loan, that the
individual has entered into the standard repayment plan of the federal Department
of Education. However, HEAB may waive the foregoing requirements based on
financial hardship. In an agreement with HEAB, an individual must express his or
her commitment to pursue a long-term career in farming in this state and to make
a good faith effort to comply with the requirements of the program. Under an
agreement, an individual must annually submit documentation to HEAB showing
that the individual continues to be a state resident whose primary occupation is to
operate a small farm and that in the preceding year he or she has made all required
payments on outstanding higher education debt; an individual must also notify
HEAB within 60 days if he or she ceases to be a state resident or his or her primary
occupation ceases to be the operation of a small farm. Except as described below, an
agreement and the payments terminate if an individual ceases to be a state resident
or ceases to have as a primary occupation the operation of a small farm. The bill
provides that an individual whose agreement terminates is liable to HEAB for a
specified portion of the individual's most recent annual payment.
The bill requires HEAB to make five annual payments of equal amounts to
individuals who satisfy the bill's requirements. HEAB must make the first payment
as soon as practicable after entering into the agreement and the subsequent
payments annually thereafter after receiving the documentation required in an
agreement. The total amount of the annual payments is $30,000, which is adjusted
for inflation, or the total amount of an individual's outstanding higher education
debt, whichever is less. The bill appropriates the following maximum amounts for
the program: in fiscal year 2017-18, $120,000; in fiscal year 2018-19, $240,000; in
fiscal year 2019-20, $360,000; in fiscal year 2020-21, $480,000; and in fiscal year
2021-22 and each fiscal year thereafter, $600,000. The Department of
Administration must adjust the foregoing amounts based on inflation.
The bill creates a penalty for individuals who intentionally provide false
information to HEAB or the council, which is a civil forfeiture of no more than $500.
In addition, if an individual with whom HEAB has entered into an agreement
intentionally provides false information or fails to notify HEAB that he or she ceases
to be a state resident or ceases to operate a small farm as his or her primary
occupation, the agreement terminates and the individual is liable to HEAB for the
total amount of payments he or she has received together with 10 percent annual
interest. If funding is available due to agreement terminations or because the
maximum amounts described above have not been exceeded in a fiscal year, the
council may advise HEAB of other individuals who are eligible for reimbursement
payments and, based on the amount of available funding, HEAB may limit the total
amount of annual payments to those individuals. If funding is not available to make
payments to all eligible individuals who apply for reimbursement, the council must
give priority to applicants in specified categories.
The bill allows certain individuals with whom HEAB has entered into
agreements to remain eligible for payments despite ceasing to be state residents or
ceasing to have as a primary occupation the operation of small farms. The bill
requires HEAB to consult with the council and promulgate rules allowing such
individuals to remain eligible if the ineligibility is because of circumstances beyond
their control, and those circumstances must include deployment in the U.S. armed
forces or national guard. The rules must provide for suspending the payments
during ineligibility and reinstituting the payments when an individual is a state
resident or has as a primary occupation the operation of a small farm.
The bill also creates an individual income tax subtract modification (deduction)
for payments made to an individual under the bill. The deduction first applies to
taxable years beginning after December 31, 2016.
The bill requires the Legislative Audit Bureau to evaluate the effectiveness of
the program in achieving the purpose of the program, which the bill specifies as to
recruit and retain new Wisconsin farmers of diverse backgrounds who have
completed postsecondary education, regardless of field of study, previous state
residency, or background in agriculture. The bill also specifies that the purpose is
to sustain the state's small and midsize family farms while fostering innovation in
sustainable best practices. Employment of sustainable best practices is one of the
categories for the council to use in prioritizing applicants if sufficient funding is not
available. No later than July 1, 2024, and every ten years thereafter, the LAB must
submit a report to the legislature regarding the evaluation. The report must include
the LAB's recommendations on terminating, continuing, revising, or expanding the
program, including any funding recommendations.
Because this bill relates to an exemption from state or local taxes, it may be
referred to the Joint Survey Committee on Tax Exemptions for a report to be printed
as an appendix to the bill.
For further information see the state fiscal estimate, which will be printed as
an appendix to this bill.
The people of the state of Wisconsin, represented in senate and assembly, do
enact as follows:
15.01 (4) of the statutes is amended to read:
“Council" means a part-time body appointed to function on a 3
continuing basis for the study, and recommendation of solutions and policy 4
alternatives, of the problems arising in a specified functional area of state 5
government, except the council on physical disabilities has the powers and duties 6
specified in s. 46.29 (1) and (2), the state council on alcohol and other drug abuse has 7
the powers and duties specified in s. 14.24, the small farm higher education debt
8council has the powers and duties specified in s. 39.52 (3) and (9),
and the electronic 9
recording council has the powers and duties specified in s. 706.25 (4).
15.137 (7) of the statutes is created to read:
15.137 (7) Small farm higher education debt council.
There is created in the 12
department of agriculture, trade and consumer protection a small farm higher 13
education debt council consisting of the secretary of agriculture, trade and consumer 14
protection or his or her designee, the chancellor of the University of 15
Wisconsin-Extension or his or her designee, and the following members appointed 16
by the secretary of agriculture, trade and consumer protection for 3-year terms:
(a) An individual who administers or participates or cooperates in programs 2
of the farm service agency of the U.S. department of agriculture. The secretary may 3
consult with the farm service agency in making the appointment.
(b) An individual representing agricultural lenders.
(c) An individual representing higher education loan providers or servicers.
20.235 (1) (em) of the statutes is created to read:
(em) Small farm operators.
A sum sufficient to make reimbursement 8
payments to small farm operators under the program under s. 39.52. Subject to s. 9
39.52 (6), the amount appropriated under this paragraph in fiscal year 2017-18 may 10
not exceed $120,000, in fiscal year 2018-19 may not exceed $240,000, in fiscal year 11
2019-20 may not exceed $360,000, in fiscal year 2020-21 may not exceed $480,000, 12
and in fiscal year 2021-22 and each fiscal year thereafter may not exceed $600,000.
39.52 of the statutes is created to read:
1439.52 Small farm operators. (1) Findings.
The legislature finds that 15
farming is central to this state's traditions and economy and essential for feeding 16
residents of this state and beyond. The legislature also finds that as the population 17
of farmers ages, this state faces a challenge recruiting and retaining new farmers. 18
The legislature believes that higher education debt is a significant barrier for new 19
farmers who work towards economic viability during the early years of their careers. 20
The legislature therefore finds it in the best interest of the state to establish a 21
program to provide financial assistance to new farmers carrying student debt in their 22
first years of farming in exchange for a commitment to farming in this state. The 23
purpose of the program is to recruit and retain new Wisconsin farmers of diverse 24
backgrounds who have completed postsecondary education, regardless of field of 25
study, previous state residency, or background in agriculture, and to sustain this
state's small and midsize family farms while fostering innovation in sustainable best 2
In this section:
(a) “Council" means the small farm higher education debt council.
(b) “Higher education debt" means debt, including interest, incurred in pursuit 6
of a certificate, diploma, or degree from an institution of higher education or to 7
complete a farm and industry short course offered by the University of Wisconsin 8
System, but does not include any debt reimbursed, assumed, or otherwise paid for 9
under any public or private program other than the program established under sub. 10
(c) “Institution of higher education" means a nonprofit or public educational 12
institution that awards an associate or baccalaureate degree and that is accredited 13
by an accrediting agency that is recognized by the secretary of the federal 14
department of education.
(d) “Operate a small farm" means to do both of the following:
1. Engage in agricultural activities at a small farm.
2. Participate in the day-to-day operation of a small farm.
(e) “Small farm" means farm premises, as specified in s. 102.04 (3), in this state 19
that, at the time of the first payment to an individual under sub. (5) or (9) (b), has 20
annual gross cash farm income that is not less than $35,000 nor more than $500,000 21
or 140 percent of the maximum annual gross cash farm income for a small farm under 22
the typology of the economic research service of the U.S. department of agriculture, 23
whichever is greater.
1(3) Reimbursement program; eligibility
. (a) The council shall establish a 2
program that reimburses the higher education debt under sub. (5) or (9) (b) if the 3
council finds that all of the following are satisfied:
1. The individual is a state resident whose primary occupation is to operate a 5
2. The individual satisfies one of the following:
a. The individual has graduated from an institution of higher education with 8
an associate or baccalaureate degree.
b. The individual has completed a farm and industry short course offered by 10
the University of Wisconsin System.
c. The individual has obtained a technical college diploma or certificate in 12
agriculture or a field related to agriculture.
3. No later than 5 years after satisfying the requirement under subd. 2., the 14
individual begins to operate a small farm.
4. No later than 5 years after satisfying the requirement under subd. 2., the 16
individual applies to the council for reimbursement.
5. The individual intends to operate a small farm for at least 5 years after 18
applying to the council for reimbursement.
6. No other individual who also operates the small farm specified in subd. 3. 20
is reimbursed for his or her higher education debt under sub. (5) or (9) (b).