Legislative Update: Buffer law, Farm Bill and tax reform have a busy week

By Amanda Bilek, Minnesota Corn Growers Association senior public policy director

The Minnesota Legislature returned from the Easter/Passover break this week and action picked right back up with only six weeks left in the regular session and a lot of work left to accomplish. It was a very busy week for agriculture—not only in St. Paul, but also Washington D.C. There is a lot to cover, so I will get right to it.

Providing property tax relief for ag land converted to buffers

With the passage of the Buffer Law, Minnesota corn farmers are investing considerable time and money to bring their farms into compliance. There is, however, a significant issue that was left unresolved in the Buffer Law—the need to eliminate the financial penalty of continuing to impose property taxes at the highest rates on farm land that is removed from production and converted to conservation buffers. A top legislative priority for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) is to provide property tax relief for farmers on agricultural land that has been removed from production in order to comply with Minnesota’s buffer law.

Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) and Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne) have introduced HF 4395/SF 3960 to address the need for property tax relief and provide an annual $50 per acre credit for ag land in buffer compliance. We applaud the authors and co-authors for bringing this proposal forward and MCGA looks forward to working with the authors to enact this proposal.

Enacting state tax reform and federal conformity

On Thursday, House Republican leadership outlined their supplemental spending plan for the $329 million projected budget surplus, which focuses on tax relief and reform, as well as transportation investments in road and bridge infrastructure. The spending plan would devote $107.45 million to tax relief and simplification of state taxes and $101 million for road and bridge repairs. Session Daily has a good breakdown on the proposal.

We look forward to further details on the House and Senate tax proposals in the next couple of weeks. MCGA will keep you updated on House and Senate supplemental spending and tax proposals. A top tax priority for agriculture is full federal conformity on Section 179 for capital equipment expensing, exchange on equipment and bonus depreciation.

BWSR amendment to Administrative Penalty Order

House and Senate committees held hearings this week on the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) proposed amendment to the Administrative Penalty Order (APO) plan for Minnesota Buffer Law implementation. This proposed amendment, which BWSR was soliciting public comment on, drew a slew of criticism, including from MCGA. Committees in the House and Senate held hearings on the proposed amendment to hear from BWSR on why this amendment was brought forward, and to hear from farmers and agriculture groups about their concerns with the proposal.

On Wednesday afternoon at a joint hearing of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Finance committees, MCGA submitted a letter from President Kirby Hettver and MCGA board director Bryan Biegler offered testimony highlighting a few of the specific concerns from the letter.

At a Thursday morning hearing of the House Agriculture Policy Committee, MCGA President Hettver offered testimony. In addition MCGA has submitted our comments to BWSR on this proposal, which you can view and read the read the latest here. BWSR will not be moving forward with the proposal and the amendment will be withdrawn, but will still accept public comments on the proposed amendment until April 16th.

Farm Bill

In Washington D.C. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway introduced the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2). More information is available here, but a few quick highlights include:

  • Farmers are allowed to make a new election between ARC and PLC
  • Crop insurance is protected
  • CRP is increased to 29 million acres over the life of the bill and rental rates are capped at 80 percent of NASS county average; NASS will also be required to calculate rates every year
  • The International Market Development Program is funded at $255 million per year, including $200 million for Market Access Program and $34.5 million for Foreign Market Development

At initial glance, several of MCGA’s farm bill priorities appear to be included in the bill and we will be watching closely as the bill moves through committee and to the full House. Looming over the bill is a disagreement between House Republicans and Democrats on proposed reforms to nutrition assistance programs.

If you have a question about any of the above or any policy-related issued, please contact Amanda Bilek at abilek@mncorn.org.

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