Reed Talks Taxes, Immigration, Trade With Local Farmers
WESTFIELD — With a grape vineyard as a back drop, Congressman Tom Reed hashed out future policies on the tax code, immigration and trade agreements with local farmers Wednesday at the Grape Discovery Center in Westfield.
Reed spoke on simplifying the tax code, securing a steady workforce as well as the country’s borders using technology and negotiating favorable trade agreements before opening up the forum to local farm, winery and brewery owners.
Fred Johnson of Johnson Estate Winery asked for a trade agreement with Ontario, Canada for more reasonable taxes on its citizens bringing a case of wine back with them.
Immigration can be a divisive issue on the national stage, but for farmers, it comes down to stability.
“In grape farming the great majority of our help are immigrants. You can’t give the job to anyone else, they won’t do it. Quite frankly, we need those people. It makes me shudder when I hear comments about they’re going to move immigration to more highly skilled (workers),” said Judith Hitz of Hitz Farm.
Double A Vineyards Owner Dennis Rak said he does not want to wait to see immigration reform.
“The labor situation in agriculture is one of the largest issues, I think,” Rak said. “Right now it’s limiting my operation and how I can grow and expand. I hire as many people from here as I can. I have to verify everyone because I’ve been fined for hiring illegal folks, so I don’t do that.
“So, my neighbors hire the folks that are not legal and I can’t hire enough people. It’s a disadvantage. The H-2A program works fine if you’re an apple grower and you want to get people in for a short period of time, but I need people for nine months out of the year. … We struggle to operate our businesses because we can’t get anything done in Washington. I’m glad we’re making progress, but it’s time to do something.”
Mario Mazza, who has experience with hiring low-skill immigrant workers as well as high-skilled for the vinticulture business, said what is said in Washington does have a local impact.
“Rhetoric is important because if we have people who are tenuous about coming to work, they’re going to be a migration of population that we’re already seeing … to year-round things like landscaping and others,” he said.
Reed said he heard the farmers’ concerns as well as their push for an immigration system based on employment demands for both low- and high-skilled workers. He also said the six-month Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) deadline imposed by President Donald Trump puts the pressure on Congress to enact immigration reform.
Also in attendance and advocating for tax relief and retention of the state and local tax reduction for counties were County Executive Vince Horrigan and Assemblyman Andy Goodell.
There was some discussion on how the tax code can be amended to assist farmers, but as Lawrence McGuinn of Lin-Ary Vineyards and Hitz pointed out, a real issue of concern is how it impacts the next generation.
“Food is power in the world. We’re remiss in not taking that seriously. We need to have some kind of federal and state incentives for the next generation. … My oldest son wanted to get into farming, but he said, ‘So much is stacked against you, mom,'” Hitz added.
Reed said tax reform is his first priority, but trade agreements are in background of the other two topics.
“Tax reform is going to be the immediate issue between now and the end of the year,” Reed said. “Immigration with the six-month DACA deadline that the president, in my opinion, wisely established for Congress to work on immigration reform going forward.
“And trade is a longer-term, 2018 type of issue that we’re going to be negotiating and renegotiating NAFTA and also bilateral agreements starting with Japan and the European Union as well as Britain as they enter Brexit,” he said. “I’ll never forget a conversation I had six months ago when we had the health care debate really ripening up on the floor and I remember on our side hearing, ‘Man, this health care’s complex. This is terrible I can’t wait until we move on to tax reform. It’s so easy.’ And we all went great and we’ll all work our differences out.
“I filmed them on the floor and I said ‘I’m going to remember this,’ because we haven’t even gotten to the controversy, (tax reform) is one of them, but there’s a lot more coming.”