Editor’s Note: As you read these examples of how the rich routinely avoid paying their fair share of taxes by gaming the reduced agricultural assessment available in most states, keep in mind how fiercely many states are going after public employees — their unions and their pensions — as the root of all fiscal evil.
“Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers and the second-richest Texan … qualified for an agricultural property tax break on his sprawling 1,757-acre residential ranch in suburban Austin and saved over $1 million simply because his family and friends sometimes use the land as a private hunting preserve to shoot deer.
” … Steve Forbes … got more than a 90 percent property tax reduction on hundreds of acres of his multimillion-dollar estate in upscale Bedminister, New Jersey, just by putting a couple of cows out to pasture.
” … A recent investigation by New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press found widespread abuse of agricultural tax breaks throughout the Garden State, where “fake farmers” qualified for tax exemptions simply by growing weeds or letting cows roam on their front lawns. Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Forbes and the billionaire heirs to the Johnson & Johnson fortune (one of whom is trying to build a helicopter pad on his “farm”) are just a few of New Jersey’s megarich who pay pennies on the dollar in property taxes.
” … Not only are agricultural tax breaks allowing wealthy landowners to shift their tax burden onto other less-affluent taxpayers but they are also helping bankrupt public schools, which derive the bulk of their funding from local property taxes.”
” … Texan law is so broadly defined that the PGA Tour golf resort in San Antonio has been trying to get recognized as a “nature preserve” to get a farm tax break.”