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No immediate Green Acres change

ST. PAUL - House Democrats beat back a Thursday attempt to immediately overturn controversial farm property tax law changes legislators made last year.

Democrats, who control the Legislature, said they will consider rescinding the Green Acres law changes in the normal committee process this legislative session.

However, Republicans who pushed for the immediate change said that farmland owners face paying thousands of extra dollars in property taxes if the 2008 changes are not reversed soon.

"We have thousands of constituents who are waiting," Rep. Rob Eastlund, R-Isanti, said before his proposal lost 74-51, with a few Democrats joining Republicans in voting for the immediate change.

The changes open farmland owners for tax bills of up to $100,000, Eastlund said.

Green Acres allows farmers to pay property taxes based on the land's use as farmland, instead of a higher value - and taxes - the land would have if it were used for housing or business developments. It was enacted to give farmers a financial incentive to keep their land in agriculture.

However, changes made by the 2008 Legislature force some landowners to pay taxes as if the land had been used in a higher-value purpose such as for housing.

Also, farmers said during a Wednesday hearing that some county assessors are charging a higher tax rate on what state law terms "non-productive land," even though areas like sloughs are fundamental parts of farms.

"There are a lot of people having sleepless nights in Minnesota over this issue," said House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall.

Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said farmers are making land-use decisions now, so the law needs to revert to the pre-2008 status soon. Some farmers are cutting trees from land, planning to plant crops, to ensure it is considered farmland.

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, chairman of the Agriculture Finance Committee, said that if the Legislature hurries too much "mistakes will be made again."

Juhnke's committee is scheduled to write a new Green Acres bill Tuesday.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.