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Tax Benefits Under Attack, NM Land Fund, Incentive Update

Advocates Alert: April 9, 2010

Nonprofit Tax Exemptions Under Attack -- Relationships are Key!

As state budget crises worsen, we can't afford to take anything for granted -- even the tax exemptions that land trusts enjoy as public charities.  Independent Sector, a national association of charities, is tracking proposals to alter nonprofit tax exemptions or institute new fees across the country:

  • Proposals to alter nonprofit tax exemptions have been raised in at least 10 states (CA, HI, KS, MD, ME, MI, NH, NY, PA and RI).
  • Proposals to place new fees or levies on nonprofits are being considered in at least 18 states (CA, CO, FL, GA, IL, IN, MA, MD, ME, MN, NJ, ND, OH, PA, TN, UT, WA and WI).

So what's a land trust to do?  Now more than ever it's essential that land trusts demonstrate to their local, state and federal officials just how important the work they do is for their communities.  Each time you complete a significant project, be sure to tell your elected officials and invite them to come visit!  Whenever possible, demonstrate the ways you're reducing the burdens of government by providing recreational opportunities and reducing the need for public services in far-flung areas. See Lobbying 101 for more advice on engaging your public officials.

It also helps to get involved in your state association of nonprofits and to sign up for free e-mail newsletters like Nonprofit Quarterly’s Nonprofit Newswire and Pew's Stateline. Click here to read more from Independent Sector.

Colorado Land Trusts Mitigate Impact of Tax Credit Caps

Colorado's transferable tax credit has been a model for encouraging conservation easement donations, but the estimated $52 million in credits in 2009 made it an attractive target as the state budget worsened this year.  In a negotiated compromise with the Governor's office, to avoid a more drastic, permanent cap on each transaction, Colorado's land trusts agreed to support a bill that will cap the total credits at $26 million in each of the next three years. Click here to read more from Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts.

Maryland Environmental Trust Survives Legislative Threat

As state budget crises worsen, land trusts can't afford to take anything for granted, even a venerable organization like Maryland Environmental Trust.  In February, legislative staff proposed eliminating MET, a quasi-governmental land trust that holds or co-holds most of Maryland's conservation easements.

Fortunately, Maryland Environmental Trust had the unwavering support of the Department of Natural Resources, members of the legislature, land trust partners, and other environmental organizations.  Members of the Board, staff and coalition attended committee hearings, meetings with legislators, internal DNR legislative meetings, and strategy sessions with outside supporters.  The Land Trust Alliance also joined in this effort, urging Maryland land trusts to call their legislators.

Thanks to all these efforts, Maryland Environmental Trust survived this dire threat and restored full funding, but such drastic proposals have become increasingly common around the country and are yet another reason that land trusts need to build strong relationships with their legislators.

Good News -- New Mexico Enacts Land Fund!

A recent victory in New Mexico shows that, even in a tough budget year, building relationships with your legislators can pay big dividends!  On March 8th, Governor Bill Richardson signed into law the Natural Heritage Conservation Act, creating a new fund for private land conservation with $5 million in initial appropriations.  This victory was made possible through the combined efforts of New Mexico land trusts, national and state conservation organizations, sportmens's groups and agricultural organizations working together with the Governor's office and state agencies over the past five years.  Combined with New Mexico's transferable state tax credit, this program will create tremendous new opportunities for private land conservation. Click here to read more from New Mexico Land Conservancy.

An Update on the Enhanced Easement Incentive (Updated 5/12/2010)

UPDATE: We've posted more recent news on the enhanced easement incentive in our May 18th Alert.

There are promising signs of progress on the "extenders bill," which would renew the enhanced easement incentive for the 2010 tax year.  The extension is expected to be retroactive to January 1st and this package will also include the S-Corp fix and charitable IRA provisions, discussed here.

Ever since the extenders package passed the Senate on March 10th, the House and Senate have been at a stalemate over how to pay for the bill -- a problem exacerbated by the final healthcare bill, which used up the biggest "offset" from the Senate-passed version.  Now, negotiators have announced a breakthrough, which should bring the extenders bill to the House floor on the week of May 17th.   That would clear the way for Senate action and the President's signature before Memorial Day. There are still many things that could go wrong, but we're optimistic and will keep you posted with ADVOCATES alerts.

Meanwhile we're making progress in our efforts to get a permanent extension of the enhanced incentive included in estate tax reform legislation.  These efforts will really kick off when new estate tax legislation is introduced, and passing a one-year extension of the easement incentive will help us focus on permanence.  Expect more news on that front in the weeks ahead.

Are You Attending the White House Conference?

As mentioned in last week's alert, we've heard that many land trusts have been invited to participate in next Friday's White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors.  A land trust presence at the conference will be a critical opportunity to showcase the role of land trusts and to seek improved incentives for private land conservation.  If you've been invited, and plan to attend, please let us know by emailing policy@lta.org so we can discuss strategy and related events.

BREAKING NEWS: The Alliance's own Lynne Sherrod will be speaking at the White House Conference shortly after President Obama! More details have been added to our March 30 alert.

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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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