Amazing Achievements, but the Easement Incentive Expired and Needs Your Help
Together we achieved some amazing things in 2011! Your efforts recruited a record 299 co-sponsors for the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, more than any other tax bill. And amidst all the slashing of budgets, we secured essentially level funding for important conservation programs in November's draft of the Farm Bill, and in the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills.
Local land trusts talking to their Senators and Representatives enabled us to do better than many other interests last year, but the enhanced easement incentive did expire and budget pressures continue to grow. We have our work cut out for us in 2012!
This is the Time to Make the Easement Incentive Permanent
Congress failed to renew the enhanced tax incentive for donations of conservation easements before it expired at the end of 2011. Right now, it is unclear when they will be able to renew it -- but it is imperative that the land trust community work hard to renew the easement incentive right now.
First, its politics are different than most issues before Congress. The legislation to make the incentive permanent (H.R. 1964 and S. 339) has nearly 300 co-sponsors and is championed by the chairs of the Senate Finance and House Ways & Means Committees, both of whom view it as an important part of their legacy. This bill is something both parties actually agree on and we need to persuade them to just get it done!
Second, delay has a real cost. Donating a conservation easement is the end of a long and expensive process for a landowner, one that many landowners won't even start if they don't know when or if the incentive will be available. Putting this incentive back in at the end of the year can’t make up for that.
Third, what we do this year will set the stage for the largest rewrite of the tax code in decades, and how it will affect land trusts and their work. Much of today's tax code expires at the end of 2012, which will require a complete re-write of tax policy. At stake will be whether to continue the charitable deduction, what the estate tax will look like, and whether to limit nonprofit status to only certain types of charities. This year is our best chance to get our congressional representatives to know and care about conservation, so that they will be looking out for our interests as they, write a new tax code in 2013.
Congress extended the payroll-tax cut by just two months and a 20-member conference committee will meet over the next few weeks to hammer out a major tax bill. That bill may provide an opportunity to extend the incentive, so we need your help right away:
- Help get a majority of House Republicans -- We're just 5 away from having majorities of both parties as co-sponsors of H.R. 1964, a powerful talking point. Please check the co-sponsor list and review our talking points.
- Ask Senators to co-sponsor S. 339 -- Unless you live in Montana or Rhode Island, at least one of your Senators is still missing from the co-sponsor list, yet 40 Senators co-sponsored in previous years. Urge them to co-sponsor today.
- Call co-sponsors -- Say thank you, but also tell them the consequences of letting the incentive expire and urge them to find a way to achieve this one thing that Republicans and Democrats can agree on (talking points).
See our December 20 alert for full details of what else expired (S Corp incentive, Charitable IRA, etc) and what the rules are if Congress fails to renew the incentive. Run the numbers; some donors may still choose to donate under today's rules.
Getting Back to Work on the Farm Bill
Last year, Agriculture Committee leaders attempted to fast-track the next Farm Bill through the deficit reduction "super-committee" process. They proposed $23 billion in cuts, but we were remarkably successful in securing essentially level funding for the agricultural conservation easement programs used most by land trusts.
The "super-committee" collapsed, however, so the Agriculture Committees will start a new Farm Bill process this year. We hope November’s language will be a starting point, but expect even greater pressure to cut budgets overall, with stiff competition from those who faced larger cuts.
We will keep you informed as this new Farm Bill process begins over the next few months. Learn more at: www.lta.org/farmbill.
Appropriations: We Dodged a Bullet in 2011, Need Your Help This Year
Congress kicked off 2011 with a proposal to zero out funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and cut other important conservation programs by up to 95%. But thanks to hard work by the LWCF Coalition, AVCRP coalition, and others, we will begin 2012 having avoided severe cuts to conservation programs, and with a modest increase for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
Unfortunately, budget pressures will continue to grow this year. The failure of the "super-committee" sets up automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in 2013 and some in Congress will seek to protect their priorities by shifting cuts to conservation.
We need your help making the case that conservation is an important investment -- just 1.26% of the federal budget that helps to support 9.4 million jobs and over $1 trillion in economic activity, according to a new study. Negotiations over next year's budget begin in February, so now is the time to tell your legislators which federal programs you rely on and how they benefit your community. Learn more at: www.lta.org/conservationfunding.
Thanks for helping!
- Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH)
- Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA)
- Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA)
See the full list and map at: www.lta.org/easementincentive/cosponsors.
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