By Janet Kubat Willette
ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed Green Acres legislation on April 3.
The legislation makes changes to changes put into effect last year.
The Minnesota Senate passed the bill 59-5 on April 1 and the House passed the bill 130-3 on March 30.
Lawmakers last year approved changes to Green Acres, a tax equalization program adopted by the Legislature in 1967. The changes set off a firestorm of controversy and 18 bills dealing with Green Acres were introduced by representatives this year.
Farmers who testified in House and Senate hearings on Green Acres asked for a repeal of the changes, but there weren’t enough votes on the floor of either chamber.
The Senate did not debate the bill before passing it, but the House debated the bill, HF392, for nearly two hours before final passage.
"I think we do have a good compromise here," said Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, who chairs the House property taxes subcommittee. "We think this addresses the three main issues that came about … that’s dealing with the grandfather, the payback and the transfer."
The rules for 2a land stay the same as before the changes were passed, Marquart said. That is 60 percent of all land enrolled in Green Acres.
Land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program qualifies if it was in agricultural use before it was enrolled and land enrolled in Reinvest in Minnesota qualifies if it isn’t subject to a perpetual easement.
Class 2a land must also include land that is impractical for the assessor to separate and includes such things as ravines, rock piles and wooded wind shelters.
A new category, the rural preserve property tax program, is created for class 2b land or rural vacant land.
A conservation management plan must be written for this land and the land enrolled in the program for a minimum of 10 years. The covenant stays with the land, not the owner. It is filed at the county recorder’s office.
"I consider this a floor of reform on Green Acres, not a ceiling," said House Minority Leader Marty Siefert, R-Marshall, during the House debate. "This is a first step of where we need to be going, not an end point of where we need to be going."
Rep. Rob Eastlund, R-Isanti, said he was disappointed in the legislation.
"Members, we never established a House position," Eastlund said. "We simply ran it through an endless number of committee hearings, never brought it to the House floor, never established a debate and had a House position and yet we went through conference committee and took what the Senate brought and modified it a little bit to bring it back and say we have a wonderful deal."
The bill does offer improvement, but also a lot of work for counties. It’s an unfunded mandate on counties, he said.
Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, said he liked his bill much more than the conference report, but he would support it.
"At the end of the day it does accomplish and fix all the problems I heard about from my constituents and so even though it isn’t perfect, it’s a compromise and it does do what we need to get done so I will support this bill," he said.