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Published January 25, 2009, 12:00 AM

No immediate Green Acres change

House Democrats beat back a Thursday attempt to immediately overturn controversial farm property tax law changes legislators made last year.

By: Don Davis, E/P State Capitol Bureau

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.

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

"We have thousands of constituents who are waiting," Rep. Rob Eastlund, R-Isanti, said before his proposal lost 74-51, with a few Democrats joining Republicans in voting for the immediate change.

The changes open farmland owners for tax bills of up to $100,000, Eastlund said.

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

However, changes made by the 2008 Legislature force some landowners to pay taxes as if the land had been used in a higher-value purpose such as for housing.

Also, farmers said during a Wednesday hearing that some county assessors are charging a higher tax rate on what state law terms "non-productive land," even though areas like sloughs are fundamental parts of farms.

"There are a lot of people having sleepless nights in Minnesota over this issue," said House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall.

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.

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, chairman of the Agriculture Finance Committee, said that if the Legislature hurries too much "mistakes will be made again."

Juhnke's committee is scheduled to write a new Green Acres bill Tuesday.

Layman OK'd

Minnesota senators approved Sandy Layman for a second term as Iron Range Resources commissioner.

The confirmation came on a voice vote, with Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, giving lukewarm support.

"While there is room for improvement in this commissioner's performance, this might not be the right time to change horses in the middle of the stream," he said.

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 help 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.

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