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Unicameral set to debate tax relief

Sen. Curt Friesen on his Hamilton County farm (NTV News)

The governor promises to bring urban and rural together for tax relief, but a diverse coalition says it's not enough. A local lawmaker at the center of the debate remains optimistic.

Curt Friesen says farmers can't compete when property taxes take a big bite.

The Hamilton County corn grower said, “The direction agriculture is going with fewer and fewer farmers, you have three percent of the population paying 68% of the funding here in Hamilton County. You got taxes at $100 plus an acre, which is your number one cost of putting in a whole crop. We can't compete.”

And as a state senator, it's issue number one.

Sen. Friesen said, “Property taxes are still my main focus, that's what my constituents have said, that's what we're hearing all the time.”

Friesen serves on the committee that has come up with a compromise plan on tax relief.

It would change how farm land is valued for tax purposes, and economic growth would trigger income tax cuts.

Governor Pete Ricketts says it appeals to both urban and rural lawmakers.

But a coalition of educators and farmers say it falls short.

Jerry Stahr, a York County farmer said, “I don't think it's working out at all. I think the majority of the state thinks property tax is the problem, not income tax.”

Stahr says it doesn't deal with the fundamental way schools are funded.

Friesen has prioritized a measure that would cap how much school funding comes from property taxes. On the low end, he says some schools get around 30 percent of funding from property taxes.

“And in other areas it's over 80 percent, so getting that cap to 40 percent, then we'd have a range of all school districts in the state using 30–40 percent property taxes for their revenue,” he explained.

State dollars would offset the difference.

Friesen's bill is next on the agenda. He's hopeful it'll advance.

“Yes I'm still optimistic we can still do something, and if nothing else, we're going to have a good discussion on it,” he said.

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