ST. PAUL – The Legislature did not repeal all the changes it made to Green Acres last year, but it restored enough of the agricultural land program’s effectiveness to gain bipartisan support in the House.
Green Acres fixes were included in a tax conformity bill (HF392) which recently passed the House 130-3. Gov. Tim Pawlenty is expected to approve the bill in the days to come.
This bill restored some key elements of Green Acres: the seven-year payback period was changed back to three years; in most cases RIM and CREP land is allowed to remain in Green Acres; land may be sold or transferred to a landowner’s child without penalty; and the deadline for full compliance was pushed back to 2013.
Green Acres has been a contentious issue in much of rural Minnesota ever since the Legislature altered the program in the waning hours of the 2008 session.
“A lot of people felt like the changes to Green Acres did not receive their due consideration on the House floor,” Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls said. “Bad things tend to happen when people ram heaps of bills through the Legislature in the final hours of the session and this is proof.”
Green Acres has been in place for more than 40 years, allowing farmers and landowners to keep their family farms in a tax classification where farms could be valued at their agricultural value. This protected them from rising valuations due to developmental pressures. Then, last year’s alterations left many farmers facing huge tax liabilities.
“Many folks in District 10A were rightly concerned the changes could make it unaffordable for them to keep their family farms intact,” Nornes said. “Family farmers were the victims of unintended consequences and it was the Legislature’s responsibility to fix what it broke.”
Work to correct the problems began on Day 1 of the current legislative session. More than 20 different Green Acres bills were drafted in the Legislature, some pushing to fix specific components and others geared to fully repeal the 2008 changes.
In the end, none of the stand-alone bills made it through the traditional legislative channels. Instead, the vehicle to restore the program came when the Senate passed Green Acres “fixers” as part of a federal tax conformity bill.
Nornes and others contended improvement still was needed in specific areas – grandfather clause, tax payback penalties and land transfer rules – before widespread support could be obtained. That is when a conference committee got into the act and the legislation passed.
“It’s not exactly what we’d hoped for, but it will help for now,” Nornes said. “I’m sure more proposals will be offered to make additional improvements, but the good thing is we’ve restored the most important components and provided Green Acres enrollees with more time to plan for the future.”
Log on to www.house.mn and enter HF392 into the “Get Bill” box for details of the bill.
Nornes represents District 10A in the Minnesota House of Representatives, and can be reached at (800) 336-8017 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.