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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 02 2011

Minnesota legislative notebook: Property taxes conflicting with conservation measures

ST. PAUL – Farmers are chopping down trees and eliminating other conservation measures because property taxes on that land are too high, some Minnesota lawmakers say.

Ag land is taxed at two rates today, lower for that used for crops and higher for other land. Lawmakers who support a change say that is forcing farmers to plant crops on more land to take advantage of lower taxes.

Several bills have been introduced, and more are expected, to overturn 2008 changes in the so-called “green acres” law that was designed to preserve farmland.

“We want to treat a farm as a farm,” Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, said Tuesday, after the House Agriculture Committee began three days of discussion on the issue.

“Green acres worked to keep family farms in Minnesota for 40 years,” LeMieur said, but during last year’s campaign he and other candidates heard the 2008 changes were hurting.

The law, in place since 1967, was written to keep farm taxes low to save farms. The 2008 change set property taxes twice as high on land that was not cropped as that with crops.

Lawmakers gave examples of farmers clearing up to 200 acres of land to turn it over to crops.

Earmarks opposed

Minnesota’s two top transportation legislators want Congress to eliminate earmarks in transportation bills.

Republican Sen. Joe Gimse of Willmar and Michael Beard of Shakopee wrote letters to all members of the Minnesota congressional delegation seeking to end the tradition of requiring federal spending on certain projects.

“While this process may sound good in theory, we firmly believe earmarking has a detrimental effect on Minnesota’s transportation funding and planning system,” their letter said.

The two legislative chairmen said USA Today reported that Minnesota lost $131.3 million in the past 20 years because the earmarked projects had not been approved by state officials.

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