Federal Policy Issues
Several federal programs have a direct influence on the work of land trusts and private land conservation in Wisconsin, creating incentives for land owners and important matching funds for land protection deals. Photo courtesy of Gil Glib.
Updated: January 3rd, 2013
The 2012 debates in Washington over the "fiscal cliff" did include several issues important to the land trust community. Gathering Waters Conservancy has always worked with our partners at the Land Trust Alliance to be sure that the voices of land trusts and others who care about private, permanent land protection are heard and heeded when policy decisions are made. Here's a brief run-down of some of the most relevant issues and their status:
Enhanced Easement Tax Incentive – A renewal for 2012 and 2013 will help land trusts work with farmers, ranchers and other modest-income landowners to increase the pace of conservation by about a third. We will share updated materials for spreading the news to potential easement donors in a few days.
Charitable Deduction – Because of your help, the charitable deduction remains largely intact. The bill does, however, bring back the “Pease Amendment,” which gradually reduces the value of itemized deductions against income exceeding $250,000. Lawmakers heard loud and clear from nonprofits that capping or cutting the charitable deduction did not make sense. We expect deductions to be on the chopping block again as Congress tackles budget reform in March.
Estate Tax Incentives – The Estate Tax retains its current $5 million unified credit, indexed for inflation, but the top rate rises to 40%. We are happy to report that the geographic limitations on estate conservation incentives are permanently repealed.
Farm Bill Easement Programs – The 2008 Farm Bill is extended for a year, through September 30, but that’s no help for the easement programs, which had already been renewed (FRPP) or remain expired (GRP & WRP). Congress must now renegotiate the new Farm Bill, having lost $500 million from the funding “baseline” for easement programs over the next decade. We will once again work with land trust leaders to engage the agriculture committees as they craft this legislation.
Conservation Funding – Sequestration, which promised automatic 8.2% across-the-board cuts, is now delayed until March 1. That deadline, along with the debt ceiling and the expiring continuing resolution, will drive the next round of negotiations, with President Obama insisting on revenue raisers and Republicans seeking spending cuts. That means conservation funding and the charitable deduction could again be at risk.