Land Trust Alliance wants tax measure in farm bill | TSLN.com

Land Trust Alliance wants tax measure in farm bill

The Land Trust Alliance, which represents nearly 1,700 land trusts nationwide, is trying to convince farm bill conferees to include a measure that would make permanent a tax deduction created in 2006 to encourage landowners to preserve farms, ranches, forests and historical sites in protected easements.

Without some type of congressional action, the law will expire at the end of December.

Lawmakers approved the enhanced tax incentive in 2006 to help land-rich but cash-poor individuals conserve their land using conservation easements, the alliance said in a news release. It was extended in the 2008 farm bill and again this past January, but only through Dec. 31.

Congress finds it easier to come up with an offset for only one year at a time, but advocates say that making it permanent would make it easier for landowners trying to decide whether to donate their development rights.

Easements, which are overseen by community-based volunteer organizations, ensure the land remains as wildlife habitat, parks and working farms rather than being converted to industrial, commercial or residential development.

"This tax incentive is about giving landowners the choice of what to do with their land over the long haul," said Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance, in a news release. "Without it, conservation wouldn't be a choice for most modest-income Americans who want their land to be enjoyed by future generations."

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Two bills have been introduced to make the conservation tax incentive permanent.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have introduced the Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act (S. 526).

Reps. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., introduced a House companion bill, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act (H.R. 2807) which has attracted more than 150 co-sponsors.

The Senate bill would cost $352 million over 10 years, according to Joint Committee on Taxation.

"Clearly, there is a bipartisan commitment to conservation in Congress, but we need to push these bills across the finish line before it's too late and this success story stalls," explained Wentworth.

More than 65 national groups, ranging from the National Rifle Association and American Farm Bureau Federation to the Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society, have urged congressional action.

Supporters say that the enhanced incentives are particularly important given their cost effectiveness at a time of tight federal budgets. Federal land acquisitions cost taxpayers more than $12,000 an acre compared to just $400 an acre for easement donations that are managed by accredited, community-based land trusts, the Land Trust Alliance said.

According to a Senate Finance Committee summary of the Senate bill, it allows all taxpayers to deduct up to 50 percent of their adjusted gross income for donations of conservation easements and carry forward the deduction up to 15 years, but allows ranchers and farmers to deduct up to 100 percent of their AGI for donations of conservation easements.

The bill also disallows a deduction for easements on (or with intended use on) golf courses.

In the past there have been concerns about wealthy people using such programs to enhance their lifestyles, but Russ Shay, a lobbyist for the Land Trust Alliance, said that Baucus has written the bill specifically to help landowners of modest income keep their land in traditional uses.

A coalition of hunting groups recently wrote the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus that the provision that allows landowners to take deductions over a 15-year period is particularly important to lower income landowners.

The Land Trust Alliance is the national association representing nearly 1,700 land trusts, which have more than 100,000 volunteers and 5 million members nationwide. These land trusts have helped to protect 47 million acres, which is an area twice the size of all national parks in contiguous United States put together, according to its website.

–The Hagstrom Report