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Alert: New Estate Tax Bill Needs Co-sponsors, America’s Great Outdoors Update

Advocates Alert: June 4, 2010

Over the past year, we've told you about several proposals to prevent the estate tax from forcing the break-up, sale and development of family farm, ranch and forest lands when it returns in 2011.  Now, these proposals have been combined into a single bill, and we need your help gathering co-sponsors!  We've also included an update on the America's Great Outdoors Initiative.

Estate Tax Looms--Ask Your Representative to Co-sponsor H.R. 5475

Last Friday, Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced the Family Farm Estate Tax Relief Act, a new version of his estate tax deferral bill (H.R. 3524) that reduces its cost from $16.2 billion to $4.2 billion while adding the increased estate tax exclusion for lands under easement (H.R. 3050). Read his press release and take a closer look at this package:

  • The exclusion provision, originally introduced by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Eric Cantor (R-VA) as H.R. 3050, would increase the IRC 2031(c) exclusion for the remainder value of land protected by a conservation easement from 40% to 50%, and from a maximum of $500,000 to $5 million.  This provides a powerful incentive for owners of high-value agricultural and forest lands to protect these properties in perpetuity. H.R. 3050 has been endorsed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and many in the land conservation community.
  • The deferral provision, similar to those previously introduced by Representatives Mike Thompson, Tim Bishop (D-NY) and John Salazar (D-CO) as H.R. 3524, H.R. 1328 and H.R. 173 (respectively), would indefinitely defer estate taxes on working farm, ranch and forest land so long as it remains in the family.  This deferral ensures that nobody has to sell the farm just to pay estate tax and it buys time for the subsequent donation or sale of a conservation easement, neither of which would be subject to recapture tax.  This provision has generated a great deal of excitement from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and other agricultural groups.

While the timing and outcome are far from clear, we expect Congress will attempt to prevent the estate tax from returning to a 55% rate and $1 million unified credit at the end of this year.  Most of that debate will center on the rate and unified credit, which will cost hundreds of billions to change, but we believe that leaves an opening for a relatively small conservation package that treats land differently from other assets. Recruiting co-sponsors for H.R. 5475 will demonstrate support for including conservation provisions and starting that conversation could help get the enhanced easement incentive (H.R. 1831) included as well.

If your Representative is already among the 21 co-sponsors of H.R. 5475, call to say thank you!  If not, please ask them to sign-on today:

  1. Check if they co-sponsored H.R. 3050 or H.R. 3524. If so, say thank you when asking them to co-sponsor this combined package.
  2. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Rep.  Then ask to speak with the staffer who handles tax issues.
  3. Introduce yourself and highlight any conservation projects encouraged by the 2031(c) exemption or important properties in your service area that could be impacted by the estate tax.
  4. Urge your Rep. to co-sponsor H.R. 5475 by calling Jonathan Birdsong in the office of Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA).
  5. Ask for their email address and follow-up with our fact sheet, which mentions H.R. 5475, but also conveys the important message that the enhanced easement incentive should be included as well.

We expect Senate companions to H.R. 3050 and H.R. 5475 to be introduced in the next few weeks and will update this page with information on how you can help gather original co-sponsors.

Great Start to America's Great Outdoors Listening Sessions, IdeaJam Update

Wednesday's Montana listening sessions for America's Great Outdoors were well attended and it sounds like land trusts did a good job of getting their message across.  The press coverage was overwhelmingly positive and these stories speak for themselves:

UPDATE: Check out 20 Thoughts About the Listening Sessions from Glenn Marx of the Montana Association of Land Trusts.

We've heard unsubstantiated rumors of listening sessions in seven other cities, but don't yet have any confirmed details.  If you hear about a listening session in your area, please let us know at policy@lta.org.

Meanwhile, we're sorry to report that the enhanced easement incentive has been overtaken in the voting on the America's Great Outdoors IdeaJam website!  In addition to voting yourself, we hope that you'll send out an action alert, tweet or Facebook post to your members and supporters.  We've created a new webpage that lists over a dozen ideas submitted by land trusts along with sample text for getting your members involved.  Check it out!

Update on the Easement Incentive Extension

UPDATE: See more recent developments in our June 10th ADVOCATES.

Please see our May 28th ADVOCATES for a full update on efforts to extend the enhanced easement incentive for 2010.  In a nutshell, an extension passed the House last Friday, but continued disagreements with the Senate could delay action by at least a few weeks.

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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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