Farm Bill Rock ‘n’ Roll
Diane Katz /
What you are about to read is not satire or parody.
The farm bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives authorizes a new tax on rocks.
The House Agriculture Committee, in its infinite wisdom, has actually approved an amendment to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (H.R. 1947) to permit the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to enforce an involuntary levy on businesses that quarry and fabricate granite, sandstone, slate, limestone, marble, travertine, and quartzite.
(By the way, although the acronym of the bill is FARRM, some 80 percent of the spending goes for food stamps.)
The rock tax is a major victory for a faction of the “natural stone” industry that’s intent on compelling fellow tradesmen to pay for standardized product promotion. You know, like “Rocks. It’s What’s for Building,” or “Got Rocks?” or “The Rocks of Our Lives.”
The Marble Institute of America (MIA) is a leader in the rock tax effort, which was launched in 2008. The folks there acknowledge the likelihood of “concern” among some in the industry about the tax, which in this case is a euphemism for “some business owners won’t like being forced by the government to pay for services that they previously obtained voluntarily.”
Under the current plan, the tax revenues would be managed by a new Natural Stone Research and Promotion Board overseen by the USDA. According to the MIA, shifting the promotion work to a new board would allow existing trade associations to focus on “advocacy” (read: lobbying).
This is the very same model adopted by milk, beef, cotton, and some 15 other commodities that depend upon taxation rather than donation. Combined, they accumulate nearly $800 million dollars annually—most of which is recouped by businesses raising retail prices. The scheme has even spread to Christmas trees.
Even if a rock tax could somehow be justified, there’s just no rationale for it to reside in the farm bill or come under USDA jurisdiction. There are rock gardens, to be sure, but there are no farmers anywhere who grow rocks.
This is all yet another indication that consumers are getting rolled by Congress far too often.