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Election Coverage

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Ag issues focus of running mates' lone debate

– The three candidates for lieutenant governor faced off Wednesday before a farm-friendly crowd at the Indiana State Fair discussing campaign topics including infrastructure, property taxes and more.

Democrat Vi Simpson offered several specific proposals during the traditional debate, while Republican Sue Ellspermann focused on the heritage of agriculture in Indiana. Libertarian Brad Klopfenstein provided some levity.

Farm and rural issues play a central role in the duties of Indiana's lieutenant governor, who also serves as the state's agriculture secretary.

All three stayed on message, referring often to their gubernatorial running mates – Democrat John Gregg, Republican Mike Pence and Libertarian Rupert Boneham.

The three answered about a dozen questions from a panel of agriculture media members, with one of the most interesting questions coming about property taxes.

Indiana farmland is valued using a formula that in part takes into account crop yields. Because recent years have been prosperous, the value of farmland has risen, which results in higher property taxes.

Simpson said she would support reversing the caps on property taxes in the state constitution, saying the caps unfairly shift the burden from residential homes to farmland and commercial properties.

Ellspermann said she supports revisiting the formula for calculating farmland value.

"Now is the time to look at the tax structure for agriculture and make sure we've made it the most competitive in the Midwest," she said.

Klopfenstein delivered the quote of the debate when he noted that since property tax caps were put in place, farmers are paying more than ever while not using any additional services.

"Hogs don't go to school," he said. "Corn doesn't need libraries."

On several different questions, Simpson said she and Gregg would focus on infrastructure in rural Indiana, such as roads, bridges, broadband and water supply.

"As lieutenant governor, I will be sure that we have a long-range plan to deal with infrastructure," she said. "It's going to take some courage because it's going to cost money."

Simpson offered one concrete proposal – stop using state gas tax dollars to fund Indiana State Police and Bureau of Motor Vehicle expenses.

She would shift those costs to the state general fund, freeing up $170 million for local road work.

Ellspermann quoted a lot of statistics but didn't provide a lot of specifics.

She offered her condolences to farmers for the damage the drought has done, noting she knows many will have to cut down their corn and simply use it for silage.

"Agriculture really is the heritage of Indiana," she said, while giving support to the establishment of an agriculture innovation food corridor.

Klopfenstein came out strong on incentives for ethanol production, noting it made sense when corn was $2 a bushel but not now that prices have tripled.

"To continue to push something that is no longer cost effective is bad for Indiana and the industry," he said.

This is the only scheduled debate for the lieutenant governor candidates.

nkelly@jg.net

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