ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Governor's race notebook: Agriculture property tax cut isn’t likely

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota farmers should not expect their property taxes to fall right away regardless of who is elected governor. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson have no plans for immediate change as farmland taxes...

ST. PAUL - Minnesota farmers should not expect their property taxes to fall right away regardless of who is elected governor.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson have no plans for immediate change as farmland taxes continue to rise when other property taxes have fallen or risen at slower rates.
Johnson said that he hopes to dust off a bipartisan property tax report compiled two years ago and see if anything in it would help.
“I don’t know what the change is, to be honest with you,” Johnson said.
Dayton said that property taxes are not the best way to raise money to pay for local governments, but they are the best method available. He does not plan to propose any specific ag tax changes.
Property taxes are based on land value, and because farmland prices have been soaring recently, property taxes also are rising.
“I say it is the most unfair tax,” Dayton said about property taxes.
Dayton said that his plans to change sales taxes, including adding some to business-to-business transitions, were “roundly trashed,” and he does not plan to bring them up again as a way to reduce property taxes.
“For the foreseeable future, we have a surplus, and I am not going to raise anybody’s taxes for anything,” he said.
Johnson cautioned Minnesotans to be patient: “I think it will take a couple of years to come up with a plan to reform taxes. It is not just cutting them.”
Forum News Service discussed farm taxes and many other nonmetro Minnesota issues with the candidates during campaign swings they made in rural areas.
Transportation
Neither candidate plans to suggest a tax increase to pay for what they agree are major unmet transportation needs.
“We are going to have to raise revenue and we are going to have to prevent the continued deterioration of our highway system,” Dayton said.
The state needs $6 billion to stop highway deterioration and congestion, a figure that does not even include adding new roads, Dayton said.
“There is no free lunch,” he added. “We don’t have an effective way to fund it … anywhere in the country right now.”
Johnson’s answer to transportation problems is to make roads and bridges a top state priority and take money from other areas for them.
“We all rely on roads and bridges more than anything else,” he said, so transportation spending on transit, sidewalks and other programs should be whittled back.
Johnson said he would support more state borrowing for roads and bridges, but Dayton said the state already borrows as much money for such uses as is allowed.
Biofuel differences
Dayton said government has a role in developing industries such as ethanol and biodiesel, fuels produced with Minnesota grains, while Johnson prefers to keep government out of private business.
However, Johnson said, because state government gave the industries a boost and required that the fuels be used, he does not want to end the mandate right away.
“I never have been a strong supporter of state mandates or state subsidies ... because I think the private market does the best job of creating the energy market,” Johnson said. “But I also fully recognize how tremendously individuals and business people have relied on that mandate.”
Johnson also said he would not use the bully pulpit as governor to promote the use of higher amounts of ethanol blended into gasoline. Republican Tim Pawlenty frequently preached ethanol when he was governor.
“I think consumer can make the best choice of what makes sense for them,” Johnson said.
Increasing the percentage of ethanol in gasoline is “not realistic or fair” this this point, he said.
Dayton said that the state’s long-running mandate that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol, usually made from corn, is “one of the principle reasons that the industry has been able to establish itself in spite of the fierce opposition of the oil industry.”
He also supports biodiesel, a soybean-based fuel added to diesel. The state has a role in helping with “transitional costs” with higher blends of the soybean fuel, he said.
With ethanol, “one of the basic laws of thermodynamics is anytime you convert from one form of energy to another there is efficiency quotient and you lose energy,” the governor said. That means it does not produce as much energy as pure gasoline, he added, which is reflected in lower prices for ethanol than gasoline.
Energy has two sides
While Dayton said that he supports renewable fuels, such as wind energy, there are downsides.
If more energy sources are established, he reminded Minnesotans that more electric transmission lines must be built, which conservationists often oppose. And wind turbines can kill birds and affect wildlife.
Solar power just started to take off, Dayton said, thanks in part to state incentives he supported and were passed last year.
The incentives help get solar panel firms established, he said, but “eventually, they will have to compete in the marketplace to be viable.”
Johnson used his job as Hennepin County commissioner to explain why he opposes mandating the use of solar panels. The county announced it would install a set of panels, but it would take 60 years to see a financial payback, he said. That is longer than the panels would last, he added.
Dayton has energy differences with North Dakota, even though its governor, Jack Dalrymple, and Dayton grew up together in the Twin Cities and both played hockey at Yale University.
“We have a significant difference about their desire to build more coal-powered power plants just west of our border and then allowing wind currents to take most of that pollution right across the border to Minnesota,” Dayton said.
Coal-fired power plants eventually will be replaced, Johnson said, but that should be done as consumers want it to happen, not due to government orders.
Johnson also would be open to more nuclear power plants, but “I don’t know that I would necessarily push for more.”
Dayton has asked Dalrymple to require western North Dakota oil to go through a process that makes it safer. Much of the Bakken region’s oil moves through Minnesota on rail. Dayton has led several oil safety summits around the state and supports more spending to battle the problem.
Johnson pushes construction of pipelines as the best way to improve rail safety.
“One thing the governor has is the bully pulpit,” Johnson said about promoting pipelines. “We don’t have a governor right now who is telling people there is a positive side of this.”
The Republican said he is willing to let the private market decide energy policy, without government interference.
Johnson said that he would expect consumers to demand more and more renewable fuels and the market will respond. “We will evolve; that is how the market has always worked.”

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.