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Busy Week in Washington: Incentive Celebration, AGO, Budget Battles

Advocates Alert: February 18, 2011

As you may have gathered from the news and our alerts, it's been an extremely busy week in Washington. We wanted to give Advocates an inside look that sums it all up:

Tax Incentive Celebration, Ask Your Reps to Co-sponsor New Bills

Ten members of Congress joined the Alliance and many of our coalition partners, including the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Trust for Public Land, Trout Unlimited and many others, in celebrating the reinstatement of the enhanced tax incentive for conservation easement donations.

The February 15 event in the Capitol honored Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), new House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), and Representatives Jim Gerlach (R-PA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Joe Pitts (R-PA), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) for their leadership in renewing the incentive last December.  Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) also participated.

Senator Baucus told the crowd that he had just re-introduced legislation with Senator Grassley (S. 339) to make the incentive permanent.  "I didn't come to Washington to do extenders -- I came to get things done" he told the crowd to applause.  Ask your senators to co-sponsor S. 339 by contacting Tiffany Smith at the Senate Finance Committee (4-4515).

Representatives Gerlach and Thompson, both members of the House Ways and Means Committee, told the crowd they will be introducing legislation to make the incentive permanent on the House side soon.  They want to gather an impressive number of original co-sponsors before introduction, and they need your help!  Please ask your representative to call Lori Prater with Rep. Gerlach (5-4315), or Carla McNeil with Rep. Thompson (5-3311), to sign onto the Conservation Easement Incentive Act as original co-sponsors!

It's a brand new Congress, so members of Congress who co-sponsored last year's bill have to sign up again.  You can reach any office via the Capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) and click here for fact sheets and additional advice.

Many thanks to easement donors to the Montana Land Reliance and representatives from the Land Trust of Napa County, Brandywine Conservancy, Montgomery County Land Trust (PA), Natural Lands Trust (PA), and Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (MI) for joining us in this celebration to present awards to our champions!

President Obama Unveils America's Great Outdoors Report

You should have received an eNews Alert from us about the America's Great Outdoors Report, which proposes to extend the enhanced easement incentive beyond 2011, fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and focus a portion of LWCF funds on innovative projects that support urban parks, community green spaces and large-scale land conservation. We think that means, among other things, grants to land trusts--and we'll be working with the Administration to follow up on that.  Our alert includes sample press materials that your land trust can use to promote these proposals and show how your work fits in to a national vision articulated by President Obama.

House Republicans, President Obama Battle Over Budgets

The government continues to function under a "continuing resolution" (CR) in lieu of detailed appropriations bills.  That CR ends March 4, so Congress needs to act soon to address what funding should go where for the remainder of fiscal year 2011.  This week, the House took up legislation that would cut $63 billion from the budget we had set 16 months ago.  That is a huge amount--about a quarter of all non-defense discretionary spending.  Analysis of the House bill showed disproportional cuts to many conservation programs, including zeroing out of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and State Wildlife Grants (SWG).

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and the Forest Legacy Program (FLP) were cut by about 90%, and on Wednesday an amendment to cut all remaining funding (even for basic program staffing) was narrowly defeated. Amazingly, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) appear to have escaped unscathed.

Republican leaders view the House CR as an important statement about the need to cut government spending generally, but it is far from the last word on spending.  The Senate will take up the issue as soon as it receives the House bill, and we expect the Senate's bill to cut less.  Input to Senators on the importance of conservation programs will be important to the final resolution.

Further complicating the picture is the ban in both the House and Senate on "earmarks" -- the allocation of program funds to specific projects.  The funding for LWCF and FLP has traditionally been allocated that way, with the House and Senate choosing specific projects based on their merits.  At this moment, it still remains a bit unclear as to how final selections of LWCF and FLP projects will be made.

Even as the 2011 remains unresolved, on February 14, President Obama unveiled his Budget Request for fiscal year 2012. His request makes a down payment on America's Great Outdoors by providing $200 million for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (its highest funding level ever) and $900 million for the LWCF, some of which "will be competitively awarded to address priorities and leverage resources for urban parks and public-private conservation projects."

The President's budget would provide steady funding for NAWCA and SWG. The acreage caps for the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and GRP would be reduced by about 160,000 acres each.

Before you panic or celebrate these numbers too much, please realize that both proposals are a long way from becoming law. We're in for a protracted battle over spending in the months ahead.

Thanks for helping!

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Advocates Alerts

February 12: The House successfully voted 279-137, demonstrating a supermajority (67%) of support, on H.R. 644, a package of charitable incentives including the conservation tax incentive.Now we need your help in the Senate to secure co-sponsors! Sens. Heller and Stabenow have requested land trusts’ assistance in asking senators to cosponsor S. 330, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act. Learn more »

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