Minnesota Farmers Hope For Tax Break To Offset School Levies

When rural schools in Minnesota pass tax levies, farmers say they're the ones who pay the lion's share of the bill. They're asking for help from the Legislature

Farmers in Minnesota are keeping their eyes on the State Capitol, hoping this is the year they, and rural schools, get some assistance from lawmakers.

Last session, the Legislature approved a 40 percent tax credit for agriculture landowners, but Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the bill.

When cash-strapped rural school districts pass capital improvement levies, the tax hikes for farmers can be significant.

Gary Wertish, interim president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, says it can be a big burden on small farmers who are trying to make a living while the agriculture economy is struggling.

“When you come on a year – like, this last year is a good example – we raised very good crops, and some of those crops didn’t cash flow, but you still have the expenses to pay,” he explains. “So somehow, you have to pay it, and you have to work with your bankers and work it through.”

The tax credit was part of a larger package of bills and the governor said he would have signed it, but there was an error in the wording that would have left the state on the hook for about $100 million.

Republicans say Dayton was holding out to get his way on other issues.

Wertish is hopeful similar legislation this session will be approved.

He says rural schools also need a break from state lawmakers, to be able to compete with larger urban districts. He points out it’s important for employers to have an educated workforce, whether it is in the rural or metro areas.

“We’re all in this together,” he stresses. “In Minnesota, we have 5.3 million people, and about 3 million of them live in the metro areas. They do have a tax base. We need to help spread that amongst the whole state. ”

Wertish says other key issues that will affect farmers and all Minnesotans include health care and transportation.

The Rural Finance Authority, which lends money to farmers who are just starting out, is out of money, and Wertish says keeping it funded is key to keeping a viable agriculture community in Minnesota.

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