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Don Davis, Published January 23 2009

Minnesota legislative notebook: Democrats defeat challenge to farm tax laws

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.

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

Green Acres allows farmers to pay taxes based on the land’s use as farmland, instead of a higher value 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.

Changes made in 2008 force some landowners to pay taxes as if the land had been used in a higher-value purpose such as housing.

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.

Gay rights sought

A group supporting gay rights in the law proposes giving surviving same-sex partners the power to honor dying wishes.

“Most Minnesotans from across the state expect our laws to treat people equally, yet 515 of our laws fall short,” said Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth. “Changes to current law are necessary to ensure equal and fair treatment for all Minnesota families.”

For instance, under current law, same-sex partners do not have the right that married spouses have to control the remains of their partners after death.

The proposals also would allow a gay survivor to sue after a partner’s wrongful death and to allow a partner the same deferred home lien enforcement that married surviving spouses enjoy.

Tax-free idea

Some Republican House members want to exempt new Minnesota businesses from the state corporate income tax.

Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said the proposal would create jobs.

“The idea is simple: If you bring your business to Minnesota and stay for five years, we will exempt you from the 9.8 percent tax rate,” Zellers said.

The same would apply to expanding businesses.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com