April 24, 2014

Nelson denies grazing rates proposal is aimed at Fischer (AUDIO)

Sen. Ben Nelson proposes increasing the rental rates on national grazing land and says the measure isn’t necessarily aimed at the Republican running for his seat.

Nelson has returned with a measure that would substantially increase the rental rates on federal grazing land. It failed to make it onto the Farm Bill during Senate debate. Under the bill, the Secretary of the Interior would be required to work with the Secretary of Agriculture to set livestock grazing fees on Bureau of Land Management and National Forest System public pasture land to more closely reflect market rates for comparable private land.

Nelson claims the move could increase federal revenue from grazing fees by $1.2 billion.

The senator has filed the proposal as a stand-alone bill and has offered it as amendment to the Small Business Tax Credit Bill to help offset the cost of that bill.

The filing comes on the heels of the State Democratic Party launching a television commercial criticizing Republican United States Senate candidate Deb Fischer as a “Welfare Rancher”, because of the below-market lease arrangement her livestock operation has enjoyed for decades.

Does Nelson, a Democrat, agree with the party that Fischer is a “Welfare Rancher”?

“Well, if the boot fits, you have to wear it,” Nelson replies.

Nelson, who isn’t running for re-election, denies his proposal is part of the political campaign by Democrat Bob Kerrey and the Nebraska Democratic Party against Fischer.

“This is a political season and all kinds of things will be said, but the facts are clear that they have received benefits from the federal government that only two percent of ranchers receive,” according to Nelson.

Fischer operates Sunny Slope Ranch near Valentine with her husband. Her husband’s family obtained the lease rights years ago. Democrats contend Fischer’s ranch has paid $244,000 for her cattle to graze on federal land since 1973 while the market value of such grazing rights would total nearly $2.9 million.

According to a news release from Nelson’s office, The Government Accountability Office has estimated that two percent of American ranchers hold animal grazing rights on public pastures managed by the National Forest System at well below-market rates.

The break on rent hurts the state, according to Nelson, who notes that 25% of grazing fees are remitted to local government and public school districts to offset the lack of property tax revenue from federal land.

The TV ad criticizing Fischer as a “Welfare Rancher” raised the ire of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, which claim it unfairly smeared all Nebraska ranchers. Nelson denies the charge.

“It doesn’t smear 98% of ranchers who pay market value for the right to graze their cattle,” Nelson contends. “It’s about two percent here.”

Nelson says raising public grazing fees is a matter of fairness and additional revenue for the federal government.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]