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Green Acres placed atop Senate GOP legislative haystack

Charley Shaw//January 9, 2011

Green Acres placed atop Senate GOP legislative haystack

Charley Shaw//January 9, 2011

Michelle Fischbach
Michelle Fischbach

A Republican proposal to repeal controversial changes to the Green Acres farmland tax program will be the second bill introduced this session in the Senate.

Despite its complexity as a matter of tax law, Republican legislative challengers this year in a number of swing districts campaigned on Green Acres. They criticized their DFL opponents for making changes in 2008 that excluded large amounts of property from receiving Green Acres tax benefits.

A little more than 40 years ago, state lawmakers created Green Acres to stunt the growth in property tax values of farms resulting from surrounding development pressures unrelated to farming. For example, Green Acres shelters a farmer from the increase in property taxes that occurs when a Wal-mart opens up down the road.

Green Acres matters little in areas like southwestern Minnesota that are predominantly agricultural. But in areas like Anoka, Chisago and Sherburne counties where farms are sandwiched around other types of uses, the 2008 changes were a big deal.

The controversy began in the 2008 legislative session when legislators, particularly Sen. Rod Skoe, who was chairman of the Property Tax Division at the time, reacted with alarm to a Legislative Auditor’s report that as much as 40 percent of the land enrolled in Green Acres was sloughs, ravines and other non-tillable lands. In response, lawmakers instituted a new tax classification that made the non-productive lands ineligible for Green Acres.

The change prompted an outcry from farmers who claimed the distinction between tillable and non-tillable land is impossible to make when it comes to assessing their property. When in the majority last session, DFL legislators in areas with a large amounts of land in Green Acres made policy alterations without repealing the Skoe reforms. Republican challengers like Bob Barrett and Dave Brown won election in their districts by advocating for a repeal of the changes. Green Acre’s flaws should be addressed after clearing the slate, the candidates said.

Senate File 2 will be introduced tomorrow. It’s authors are Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, and Al DeKruif, R-Madison Lake.

Farm groups like the Minnesota Farmers Union support repeal. But their representatives have said recently that repeal will be complicated now that the ’08 changes have started to settle in. Thom Peterson, a lobbyist for MFU, said this week in a legislative update to MFU members, that the dynamics surrounding Green Acres have changed because the new GOP tax chairs Sen. Julianne Ortman and Rep. Greg Davids represent districts that make heavy use of the program.

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