Georgia Forestry Commission

A ballot initiative on the Georgia ballot would exempt timber equipment owned by a timber producer from ad valorem property taxes.

(The Center Square) — When Georgia voters head to the polls on Tuesday, they’ll vote on more than races for governor and senator.

They’ll also weigh in on a series of questions and constitutional amendments. Referendum A asks voters to decide whether to exempt timber equipment a timber producer owns from ad valorem property taxes.

According to the Georgia Forestry Association, logging companies saw a cost increase of $2.50 per ton of wood harvested in 2022. That totals roughly $7,500 per week for an average small forestry business.

Andres Villegas, president and CEO of the Georgia Forestry Association, answered a few questions from The Center Square about the measure and what it means to the state’s forestry industry.

What is the biggest issue facing the forestry industry in Georgia?

Small forestry businesses are under extreme economic pressure from rising operational costs, supply chain constraints and labor challenges. In 2022, the average Georgia logging business is experiencing an estimated $7,500 in increased weekly operational costs – or $390,000/year.

This cost increase is threatening the long-term health of the sector and ultimately the prospect of keeping our state covered in forests.

Why should voters approve Referendum A?

Referendum A will provide an annual ad valorem (property) tax exemption for equipment used for managing, harvesting and replanting forests, an exemption that has been extended to owners of farm equipment for decades. This exemption will apply to more than 1,200 small businesses that directly support over 5,400 jobs.

Voting yes will provide economic relief for our small forestry businesses who are vital to the sustainability of our forests and the economic future of rural communities. This legislation received strong bipartisan support in the State Legislature, and now requires approval from Georgia voters.

Referendum A does not impact the annual ad valorem tax on timberland, the ad valorem tax paid at the time when trees are harvested, or federal income tax.

How would Referendum A impact Georgians as a whole?

Georgia has 22 million acres of privately owned timberland, more than any other state. This land is owned and managed by tens of thousands of private, non-industrial landowners whose stewardship serves to clean our water and air while providing valuable wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.

Today, Georgia forest landowners grow 48 percent more wood than is harvested annually, and they plant more than 200 million trees per year. In addition to the environmental services they provide, trees from private forests are converted to more than 5,000 sustainable, renewable products and consumer goods. Georgia’s forestry industry provides 140,000 jobs and $39 billion in economic activity, serving as an economic underpinning for the entire state.

Playing the Devil’s Advocate, why should someone who owns a small business that is not in the timber industry vote for this? Shouldn’t they want lawmakers to extend a similar benefit to them and their industry?

The total collective tax burden at the local, state and federal level on a timberland owner in Georgia is the highest of any state in the Southeastern United States. We are placing an undue burden on an activity that produces the air we breathe, filters most of the water we drink, and provides us the shelter and many of the products we use daily.

Whether you are a homebuilder, export and logistics business, a cell phone manufacturer or a pharmaceutical company, you depend on forest products or derivatives of wood for the success of your business. Small forestry businesses are the tip of the spear, taking on much of the rising input costs from the COVID-19 pandemic, inflationary cost increases for goods and services and increasing labor challenges.

In order to ensure steady production of forest products that we need for our survival, comfort and progress, we must ensure that the small businesses who steward our natural resources are on par with other agricultural businesses in the state.