Time to learn from past Green Acres mistakes

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by Brian Devore | March 13, 2009 • Apparently, the lessons of 2008 aren’t sticking with the Minnesota Legislature when it comes to the Green Acres debacle. It came to light this week that certain lawmakers are trying to “fix the fixes” in Green Acres through the same means the program was screwed-up in the first place: by doing things out of the public eye. Thursday is a big day on the Senate floor for Green Acres. Click here to learn how to inform lawmakers immediately that changes to Green Acres need to be executed in the open.

Loon Commons is a blog of the Land Stewardship Project. Contact Loon Commons at bdevore@landstewardshipproject.org

As we’ve reported here before, this key farmland conservation program was thrown into a tailspin last year when the Minnesota Legislature made changes to it with virtually no public input. That lack of input has created a mess of a program that’s got farmers, conservationists and assessors hopping mad, and communities in general concerned about the future of their rural landscapes. For a sense of what a mess Legislators have created, just check out what farmer Heidi Morlock has to say in a recent podcast and a letter-to-the-editor she wrote to Agri News.

Tomorrow is when the Senate will take up the Federal Tax Conformity bill. Contained within that bill is a “reform the 2008 Green Acres reforms” proposal. It was stuck into the Federal Tax Conformity bill with no public discussion. We’ve been down this “no citizen input” road before and that’s why we’re in this muddle. But this time, we have a chance to change course and save the program before it crashes and burns. Call your Senator before 10 a.m. on Thursday and tell them that nothing short of a repeal of the 2008 Green Acres changes is acceptable. Don’t let them tell you that the “reform” measure will fix things; there has simply not been enough scrutiny of the proposal to determine what long-term impacts it will have on Green Acres.

This latest “reform” bill was created by Sen. Rod Skoe, who was the driver behind much of last year’s disastrous “reform” package. There has been no time or opportunity for the public to scrutinize and weigh in on this new language. This behind-the-scenes legislating was exactly how last year’s harmful changes were created. Green Acres is a complicated program, and any changes to it need to be done in a public, deliberative fashion. That won’t happen if the changes are slipped into a larger tax bill.

The Legislature needs to repeal last year’s changes to restore trust with farmers and landowners. Once the changes are repealed, improvements to the program can be discussed during hearings this summer. During those hearings, farmers, conservationists, assessors and others concerned about the future of our rural landscape can provide the kind of input a key program like Green Acres deserves.

Click here to learn how to contact members of the Senate. And while you’re at it, give Gov. Tim Pawlenty a call and remind him it’s time he showed leadership on this issue. Representatives of Gov. Pawlenty’s Minnesota Department of Revenue have been at the Capitol working to oppose a Green Acres repeal. The Governor needs to actively support a repeal and send a message to the Legislature that he expects a tax bill that contains repeal of the changes made to the Green Acres program. LSP’s latest action alert has details on how to contact the Governor.

By the way, you can monitor tomorrow’s floor debate live, starting at 11 a.m., by clicking here (look on the left side for “Audio and Video” and click on the appropriate link).

On the House side, there are no less than 15 bills related to Green Acres in play as of this writing. On Tuesday, March 17, at 6 p.m. in Room 200 of the State Office Building, the House Tax Committee will take up the Green Acres issue. This is a key hearing. We need people to testify and be a presence in the room in support of repeal.

Unfortunately, citizens are telling us that they are being told by Tax Committee Chair Ann Lenczewski that they can show up for the March 17 hearing if they want, but they can’t sign-in beforehand to testify. Let’s get this straight: farmers and other rural citizens are expected to drive from outstate Minnesota and sit in a hearing for hours with no guarantee they will get a chance to have their say? I guess there is more than one way to keep citizen input into policy-making to a minimum.

For more information on how to make sure citizens’ voices are heard on March 17, call LSP’s Bobby King at 612-722-6377.

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