Green Acres debate on again at Capitol
ST. PAUL — Depending on who you talk to, Green Acres is either a tax equalization program that keeps farmers operatoring or a tax preference program that makes it hard for grandma to stay in her home.
First passed in 1967, Green Acres operated mostly under the radar screen until a Legislative Auditor’s Report brought it to the forefront in 2008.
The report found that while the program was effective at equalizing tax burdens, it didn’t help everybody who could be eligible, testified Jody Hauer from the Legislative Auditor’s office at the Feb. 1 House ag committee hearing. Green Acres wasn’t consistently implemented around the state, she said.
Green Acres effectively equalized property taxes, the report found, reducing taxes paid by qualifying landowners by $35 million. The taxes were redistributed and paid by other taxpayers, Hauer said. The Legislative Auditor brought this to the attention of the Legislature so they could determine whether or not that was appropriate.
Changes were made to the program in 2008 and Green Acres has become a perennial issue at the Legislature since. This session is no different. Four bills in the House of Representatives have been introduced to restore Green Acres to pre-2008 status and five Green Acres bills are alive in the Senate.
The House bills are authored by Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, and Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell.
The Senate bills are authored by Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, and Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd.
Testimony was taken on Green Acres in the House ag committee on Feb. 1. On Feb. 2, a bipartisan ag committee working group discussed the issue and on Feb. 3, the bills authored by LeMieur, Kiffmeyer and O’Driscoll were discussed in the committee.
Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, who chairs the House Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and Finance Committee, expects the committee to put together a bill and pass it on to the Tax Committee on Feb. 8.
"Through all this, we want to do the best job we possibly can to send out a bill that has bipartisan support and a bill that the governor can sign as well," Hamilton said.
On Feb. 3, the ag committee decided to recraft HF12, the bill authored by LeMieur, and hold the bills authored by Kiffmeyer, HF148, and O’Driscoll, HF142. The bill is in process, Hamilton emphasized, and changes are likely at the Feb. 8 meeting.
"We’re just trying to be very thorough and deliberate," he said. "We want to get this right, so we don’t have to keep coming back and making changes year after year after year."