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Controversial farmland assessment law still in state budget

It appears that a controversial change in Wisconsin's farmland assessment law is still in the state budget.

The Legislature's final version of the two-year package was approved by the Senate overnight.

And at first glance, the budget still includes a measure to end the state's 14-year-old farmland tax break on those lands which are zoned for homes, businesses and industries.

The use-value assessment law is designed to assess farmland on its actual use, instead of its potential for future development.

But Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker moved to restrict the tax break, after learning that commercial and residential developers in cities were tilling land to qualify for the lower farm assessments.

That made city leaders upset, because it forces homeowners pay the taxes the developers would otherwise pay.

But developers say they're just trying to hang onto their vacant land until the economy improves and a change in the law could drive residential assessments sky-high.

Also, some farmers fear they'll lose the tax breaks which were meant for them.

Thursday night, a legislative conference committee approved 256 pages of amendments to the Senate's budget and the use value assessment change was not listed among them, which means it's still in the package.

The Assembly takes the budget up today, but it cannot amend it.

That means those still hoping to scrap the farmland assessment change will need Gov. Jim Doyle to veto it next week.