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Tax relief comes to farmers, too

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To the Editor:

As a longtime Minnesota farmer, I understand how our strong agriculture economy has brought rapid increases to agricultural land value. This has led many farmers to experience sticker shock upon opening their property tax statements.

But a recent editorial in the Republican-Eagle told only half the story. As Chair of the Senate tax committee, I take interest in telling the rest.

To begin with, the R-E criticizes the statewide school levy for not exempting farm property, but fails to look at the larger package of education finance reforms that will ultimately provide our rural schools with more funding at a lower overall property tax levy. After years of declining financial support for education, the state Legislature finally took action to stabilize education funding for years to come.

Whether or not you are a farmer, good schools are a smart investment.

The editorial also states that farmers have complained about a new tax law concerning conservation easements that prevents county assessors from passing on the property tax impact of easements to other property owners. There is no denying that conservation easements potentially can affect property values, but just because your neighbor chooses to enter into a conservation easement shouldn’t mean you have to bear an extra tax burden. Our reform aims to prevent new easements from shifting property taxes onto neighboring property.

It’s also unfair to isolate one or two tax provisions from last session’s budget package and ignore the significant investments made in property tax relief for Minnesota farmers, homeowners and businesses.

For starters, we reinstated township aid so that aid goes to areas of the state with higher value farm land — and thus higher individual property tax assessments. Then we completely eliminated the sales tax for cities and counties (a benefit townships have long enjoyed), providing local governments with the resources they need to hold down property taxes without cutting core services.

In total, we devoted over $400 million of the state budget to addressing out-of-control property tax hikes Minnesotans have seen over the past decade.

While nobody will ever look forward to opening up their property tax statement, the reforms we passed in 2013 have us moving in the right direction. Minnesota’s economy is strong, jobs are up, unemployment is down, and our farmers remain well positioned for sustained, long-term growth.

Rod Skoe

Clearbrook

Rod Skoe, a Democrat, represents Senate Districe 2 and chairs the Senate tax committe

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