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Green Acres fix heads to governor

ST. PAUL - The first major item to be debated by Minnesota legislators this year finally is headed to the governor for his signature.

The Senate passed a Green Acres law change 59-5 Wednesday, continuing a farmland property tax break.

The provision is part of an overall tax bill that conforms state law to federal tax law.

Green Acres is a law that allows farmland to be taxed at the agriculture rate rather than the pricier tax charged on property that is developed into housing or business uses. However, a law change last year would have slapped higher property taxes on non-cropland on farms near developments. The bill senators sent to the governor, after the House approved it earlier, restores the lower tax rates to much of the vacant land.

Productive land on more than 10 acres will continue to receive preferential Green Acres tax treatment.

Flood school aid

School districts affected by Red River flooding would be fiscally protected under the Senate's education funding bill.

A provision inserted by committee Chairman LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, would maintain existing per-pupil school funding even if a district loses students due to the flood.

Some Senate education committee members questioned whether protecting flooded districts from losing money would become costly because the state could end up paying the losing district as well as the district a student moved to.

Bonding to floor

A public works spending bill, funded by the state selling bonds, heads to the full House, perhaps as early as Monday.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved it on a split voice vote Wednesday.

The only change was a Representative Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, amendment to add St. Vincent to a list of cities eligible for flood-prevention money. The town is in extreme northwestern Minnesota.

Bonding Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, told the committee that she did not have enough money for flood relief or prevention.

"We don't begin to respond to the floods," she said.

A bill later this session may provide flood recovery money. However, lawmakers representing flooded areas say they are concerned that a recovery will only would include recovery money - funds for rebuilding streets and public buildings, for instance - but not money to prevent future floods by building new dikes and other such structures.

Hausman's bill contains $12.7 million for flood prevention. A Senate-passed bill includes $26 million, but state officials say they have at least $37 million worth of flood-prevention projects ready to be built.

Overall, the public works bill would spend $247 million, compared to $367 million in a Senate measure.

$9 million given

The Blandin Foundation gave $7 million and the R.K. Mellon foundation added $2 million to an effort to preserve northern Minnesota forest-land.

The Legislature is due to consider a proposal to buy easements for 188,000 forest acres this spring. One estimate sets the total cost of the project at nearly $50 million, with most coming from a sales tax increase voters approved last November.