WASHINGTON, June 18, 2014 –Advocates for a tax incentive aimed at helping owners conserve farmland, woodlands and open spaces passed an important milestone Tuesday – gaining support from 219 cosponsors – a majority -- in the House of Representatives.
The House leadership expects a vote on the measure later this summer, says Russ Shay, director of public policy for the Land Trust Alliance.
There are more than 20 Senate cosponsors and the Senate passed similar legislation at least three times, Shay adds. “The hurdle has been the House.”
The legislation, H.R. 2807, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, was introduced last year by Congressmen Jim Gerlach, R-Penn, and Mike Thompson, D-Calif. It would make permanent the enhanced tax incentives created in 2006 to help landowners preserve farms, ranches, forests and historical sites in protected easements, working in partnership with land trusts – nonprofit conservation organizations.
In addition to making those incentives permanent, the legislation would create an enhanced incentive for conservation easements, noted Gerlach. The enhanced incentive helps landowners of modest means choose conservation by:
from 30 percent of their adjusted gross income (AGI) in any year to 50 percent.
•Allowing qualified farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100 percent of their adjusted gross income.
Sixty-five national organizations – including The Nature Conservancy, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited, American Farm Bureau Federation, Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society – also back the idea of making the enhanced conservation tax credit permanent.
Land trusts have now conserved more than 47 million acres, an increase of roughly 10 million acres since 2005, and advocates say this tax incentive will make donating an easement much more attractive for many farmers and ranchers.
“The sponsorship of a majority of the House is an important milestone because of the urgent need to restart this important incentive as soon as possible," said Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance, who noted in a press release that the incentive, which enabled private landowners to conserve a million acres a year, expired on January 1 of this year. The Land Trust Alliance is the national association representing 1,700 land trusts, which have more than 100,000 volunteers and 5 million members nationwide.
The enhanced incentive, first passed in 2006, has expired repeatedly since passage including the end of last year. The bipartisan bill was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee on May 29, but has not yet been scheduled for a vote by the full House.
“This on-again, off-again incentive makes it nearly impossible to educate and encourage potential land donors to enter a conservation easement program,” said Wentworth. “It's difficult for landowners to donate what is perhaps their largest monetary asset — the future development rights of their lands — if the threat of the end of the tax incentive is constantly looming.”
Despite the fact that the majority of the House now supports the bill, advocates for the tax incentive realize that they have to keep the pressure on both the House and Senate to finally approve the bill – given the limited number of legislative days left for Congress to approve the measure.
“We hope the House leadership will bring this to a vote and it will put renewed pressure on the Senate to act,” emphasized Shay.
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