The state legislature had a short session this year that finished in a flourish this past weekend. The action team and our lobbyists worked hard and were fortunate enough to achieve some of our major priorities. Number one on the list was an agricultural property tax credit for school building bonds. We were successful in getting legislation passed in the House and Senate that will create a property tax credit on all agricultural property equal to 40 percent of the property’s eligible tax value.
Under current law, only the house, garage, and one acre of farmland are subject to property tax levies for school district operating costs, but the entire property is subject to taxes for new school building levies. The omnibus tax bill provides property tax relief to farmers without redistributing the cost to the local community. We anticipate that this will be a savings to farmers in Minnesota of around $ 94,000,000. The hard work of our action team, staff and lobbying team, along with other ag groups really shined with this win. Hopefully the bill will be signed by the Governor to give Minnesota farmers the tax relief they need with current farm economics. If signed, the legislation would start with taxes due and payable in 2018.
The buffer strip law passed last session was also one of our main priorities. Our concern was not so much with the public ditches, but the language that included the private ditches. The new language now leaves out our private farm ditches. The Department of Natural Resources has been mapping public waters and ditch systems in the state that will require permanent buffers under the new buffer law. This bill establishes a local aid to each county that is responsible for creating and maintaining public buffers. The aid is calculated by a formula including the miles of public water shoreline and the miles of public drainage system ditches in county and the number of acres of agricultural land in the county. This year’s fixes were a major win, but the fight is not over with the buffer legislation quite yet. More work needs to be done to bring some compensation to the table for farmers when it comes to buffers.
The legislature did pass a compromised tax bill with $260 million in tax cuts and credits in 2017 and $500 million in the next fiscal biennium. The package is a mix of property tax relief, buffer aids to counties, tax credit for college graduates with loan debt and also increases state aid to local governments.
At the time I am submitting this, Gov. Dayton has still not signed on to this bill. We are hopeful this should happen by the first full week of June. A big thanks is due to all those who worked on this, especially our lobbying staff of Jerry Schoenfeld, Cory Bennett, and AJ Duerr who have had a pulse on this for the full legislative session. I also want to thank the Advocacy action team and directors who attended our Hill visits- keeping the pressure on key legislators who played a big role. Also a big thanks to the Minnesota Soybean Growers staff that coordinated the Hill visits and Phone2Action mobile advocacy tool. Veronica Bruckhoff, Tom Slunecka, Joe Smentek, and the communications team did a great job helping with these efforts to get farmers some property tax relief.
Unfortunately, the bonding bill and the transportation bill did not make it through the House and Senate. The bonding bill would have helped rural communities fix waste water treatment facilities that are out-of-date and a major cause of pollution in our rural communities. The transportation bill could have helped deal with our crumbling bridges and roads we need in rural Minnesota to get our crops to market. We are hopeful this will be addressed early in the next session or in a special session. We will keep working on all of our legislative priorities to help increase the profitability of soybean farmers – while keeping you posted along the way!