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Farm organizations demand buffer zone property tax credit

ST. PAUL — Farm organizations are demanding Gov. Mark Dayton to approve a bill that will give tax credit to farmers whose land was usurped by the buffer zone laws over the past year.

“Anything other than final passage of the buffer property tax credit this year with your signature will be considered a failure and this will be a major issue in the elections this fall,” a letter signed by 15 farm organizations said.

 The letter delivered Wednesday was sent to the governor and members of the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate. It was also sent to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.

The letter “urgently requested the passage of legislation that would provide farmers with a tax credit for land taken out of production to comply with the Minnesota Buffer Law,” Brent Renneke of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association said. “Currently the buffer law penalizes farmers by continuing to tax buffer acres at valuations that assume these acres are still producing crops and income.”

While Dayton initially voiced his support for the legislation publicly, he has since backed away for this position, Renneke claims.

“I think Governor Dayton has an issue with where the funds are coming from,” Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said Thursday. “They should be taken from Legacy funds used to purchase land, rather than the General Fund.”

Swedzinski also said there are a lot of little changes that need to be made, such as changing the buffer zone program to a voluntary one.

“A lot of people are still holding out,” he said. “The 98 percent compliance includes farmers who signed papers for extensions (and have not yet put in buffer zones).”

On Thursday, Dayton said he continues to support the property tax credit.

“In regard to HF 4395/SF 3960, my position has never changed. I am very supportive of a property tax credit for compliance with the Buffer Law. I proposed such a tax credit in my 2017 Tax Bill,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the Legislature did not include it in the bill they sent to me, which I signed,” Dayton said. “I am pleased to see Representative Anderson and Senator Weber working to move similar legislation forward this year. Consistent with my proposal from last year, I support the use of our General Fund surplus to pay for this credit in a way that provides certainty to farmers and local governments. However, I will support any funding source, as long as it is constitutional.

“I absolutely agree that the Legislature should pass the property tax credit this year for my signature, and that there is no excuse for not doing so this year,” Dayton said. “I look forward to further conversation, once the House and Senate have worked through their final version together.”

The letter also stated the legislation responsibly included a funding provision — utilizing Clean Water Funds — dollars that are specifically designated for projects and initiatives to improve water quality in Minnesota.

“Using Clean Water Funds to cover the tax credit is a perfect fit,” Cottonwood farmer and Farm Bureau State Officer Carolyn Olson said. “There are dedicated Clean Water funds that are being used. It’s money set aside to do what buffer zone is trying to do.”

The farm organization letter also pointed out that Minnesota is now at 98 percent compliance for installing buffers on public waters.

“While Minnesota farmers have been doing their part to comply, farmers are highly frustrated with the lack of action to address the most important piece of unfinished business in the 2015 buffer law — the lack of compensation for this taking of productive farmland,” the letter said. “Farmers and most Minnesotans understand the basic concept that if the government takes private property for a public purpose, the government must compensate the private property owner.”

In addition, the farm organization letter said if there is a significant reduction in the value of a home or business, by law, the assessed value must be lowered to its new/lower market value, which results in lower property taxes on that property.

“Minnesota farmers demand to know — why are the same basic principles of fairness being ignored with respect to buffers?” it asked.

The organizations noted bipartisan legislation has been introduced this session to provide a much-needed property tax credit for farm acres that are required to be removed from production and converted into buffers.

“The HF 4395 has been heard in two committees and would need to be heard in two additional committees before it could be scheduled for a floor vote,” Renneke said. “As you may know, there is no committee deadlines for tax proposals. SF 3960 has not received a committee hearing. So unfortunately we don’t have a firm timeline on either bill, so no new news since (Wednesday).

Farmers demand and expect action this year, Renneke said.

Swedzinski said he thinks the bills will be voted on in the next 10 days.

“Farmers want clean water and want to do the right thing.” Olson said, “But property taxes are always being adjusted. They just want it to be fair and equitable, and less of a strain on farmers. The $50 per acre credit will help with that.”

The signees on the letter are: Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota, Cooperative Network, Minnesota Agrigrowth Council, Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers, Minnesota Barley Growers Association, Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Minnesota Farm Bureau, Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Minnesota Pork Producers Association, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association, Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association and Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative.

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