By State Rep. Dean Urdahl
Some changes were made to Green Acres late in the 2008 session, causing confusion and downright panic among some rural property owners who now could face serious tax consequences.
The agricultural land program has been a big talking point at the Capitol recently as the Legislature works to resolve the issues. A couple of hearings have taken place and the topic of fixing Green Acres also was taken up on the House floor where a motion was made to expedite the process. I supported the motion but it was defeated so Green Acres now will return to committees for consideration.
There currently are a few different versions of bills to fix Green Acres and the hope is to bring them together in one passable form. I co-authored one bill that repeals three of last year’s ill-advised changes: it repeals the new “rural vacant land” classification, restores the property tax look-back period to three years instead of seven years, and reinstates the grandfather clause that allows property owners to pass on land included in the Green Acres program without a tax reassessment.
People who maintain the status quo with their land won’t have an issue, but any land transfer could mean excessive penalties of up to seven years’ worth of taxes. Those who want to make changes may be better off selling their land to commercial development, contradicting the purpose of Green Acres.
Furthermore, the last year’s changes created a new “non-productive” designation for land, practically encouraging farmers to bulldoze wooded areas, drain wetlands and raze windbreaks to create eligible “productive” land. It’s not fair to taxpayers that rules were changed in the middle of the game, not to mention the detrimental environmental impacts that may result.
Maybe there were some aspects of Green Acres which needed some tinkering, but last year’s changes were too far-reaching and were buried within a raft of omnibus tax bill pages. The results have been damaging so let’s hope a bill to rectify the situation is presented in stand-alone legislation this session. That way it can be considered on its own merit.
Dean Urdahl represents District 18B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The district includes most of Meeker County and a portion of Wright County. This is Urdahl’s fourth term in the Legislature after being elected in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.