By State Rep. Dean Urdahl
The Legislature did not repeal all the changes it made to Green Acres last year, but it has fixed much of the damage done last year to the agricultural land program’s effectiveness.
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 CRP 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 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 some changes passed the Legislature late in the 2008 session without having received due consideration on the House floor; they were buried within a raft of omnibus tax bill pages. Maybe there were some components of Green Acres which needed improvement, but last year’s changes were too far-reaching and the consequences were devastating.
The changes made it impossible for many farmers to continue owning their land and to pass it on to the next generation without huge tax liabilities. People were caught off-guard and rightly feared they would have no choice but to sell their property to escape the new tax burden; this legislation was going to break up the family farm.
It was the Legislature’s responsibility to make amends and efforts to restore Green Acres started Day 1 of this legislative session. More than 20 different Green Acres bills were drafted, some working to fix specific components and others designed to fully repeal the 2008 changes. I co-authored a bill for the latter.
In the end, none of those stand-alone bills made it through the traditional legislative process. The vehicle to restore Green Acres came when the Senate passed program fixers as part of a federal tax conformity bill. That gave us a starting point, but a few specific areas needed to be addressed – including a grandfather clause, tax payback penalties and land transfer rules – before bipartisan support could be achieved.
A conference committee made some key revisions and the bill easily cleared the Legislature.
This bill is not the full repeal many people are looking for, but it is an improvement as legislators continue working toward that goal. You can find all the details of the Green Acres legislation by logging on to www.house.mn and entering HF392 into the “Get Bill” box.
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.