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Budget Would Triple LWCF, House Letters Attract Cosponsors

Advocates Alert: March 9, 2009

On Friday, Congress passed another stopgap "continuing resolution" to keep the government operating through Tuesday as the Senate debates appropriations for the current fiscal year.  While the process could still break down, it doesn't appear there have been any changes to the spending levels discussed in our last alert.  We will keep you informed.

Even as Congress continues to debate appropriations for fiscal year 2009, President Obama has kicked off the process for fiscal year 2010 by releasing a summary of his budget request.

President's Budget Request Promises Full Funding for LWCF, NAWCA within 4 Years

Over the past few years, funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has hovered around $150 million, just one sixth of its statutory cap of $900 million.  President Obama's fiscal year 2010 budget would change that in a big way!  First it proposes $420 million for FY 2010, nearly triple last year's funding.  Then it promises full funding by 2014, something that has been achieved only twice in the 45 year history of the program!

The budget also promises to fully fund the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) by 2012. Funding would rise by $10 million next year, reaching its $75 million cap two years later.  NAWCA grants fund many important wetland conservation and restoration projects throughout North America.  Mary Pope Hutson, Executive Vice President of the Alliance serves as a member of the North American Wetlands Conservation Council--the governing body for this program.

This first installment of the President's budget has few details, particularly when it comes to tax policy.  It does voice support for "conservation tax incentives that were provided in the 2008 Farm Bill," but our easement incentive was just one of several such provisions, so it's not yet clear if this was a reference to our provision.

One area of concern is a provision that would limit tax deductions for upper income taxpayers, including deductions for charitable donations.  The Alliance is working with partners to evaluate and respond to this provision. More details on the tax front will be available when The Treasury Department releases its "blue book" in several weeks.

New Letters Attract Easement Incentive Cosponsors—Is Your Representative Among Them?

Last week, Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Eric Cantor (R-VA) circulated a Dear Colleague letter seeking original cosponsors for the Conservation Easement Incentive Act.  That's a new name, but the legislation will otherwise be identical to H.R. 1576, which had 183 cosponsors last year.

The Land Trust Alliance has sent every U.S. Representative a coalition letter signed by 57 organizations, and more organizations are planning to send their own letters of support.

Thanks in part to these letters, 12 Representatives have already signed on as original cosponsors: Reps. Thompson (D-CA), Cantor (R-VA), Cardoza (D-CA), Chandler (D-KY), Fortenberry (R-NE), Hinchey (D-NY), Kennedy (D-RI), King (R-NY), Perriello (D-VA), Roskam (R-IL), Schiff (D-CA) and Schwartz (D-PA).  Rep. Thompson hopes to gather about 50 original cosponsors before introducing the bill and members of the Ways & Means Committee would be particularly helpful.

Why haven't all 156 of last year's returning cosponsors signed on?  Travis Robey in Rep. Thompson's office reports that it's far from automatic--there are now so many Dear Colleague letters that staffers have to sign up for an email listserv by subject!  He also reports that some Representatives are very selective and won't sign on to anything, even things they've cosponsored in the past, unless they hear from constituents.

The only sure-fire way to break through the din is for you, a constituent, to call their office (switchboard: 202-244-3121), ask for the staff member who handles tax issues, and ask them to cosponsor by calling Travis Robey in Rep. Thompson's office or Wyatt Stewart in Rep. Cantor's office. Click here for detailed instructions and a fact sheet you can forward.

Thanks for helping!

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Advocates Alerts

July 10: House Vote on Conservation Tax Incentive Coming Soon

The House of Representatives will vote on the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, perhaps as early as next week. Whether you use this incentive or not, this is an unprecedented opportunity for the entire House of Representatives to vote specifically on whether or not to help land trusts. Every vote will count, and we urge you to call your congressional office and ask your representative to support H.R. 2807 when it comes to the floor – and to get as many others as possible in your land trust and its local partners to do the same.
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