"Conservation" Provision was Hidden in Bush's "Faith-Based Initiative"
Senate Drops Stealth Measure for Capitol Gains Tax Relief
Tax Break of 25% Was to Favor Landowners Who Sell to Land Trusts
By Carol W. LaGrasse
June 24, 2002
A controversial plan to give landowners a big tax credit if they sell their holdings to land trusts suffered another setback. This time, advocates buried the measure in President Bush's "Faith-Based Initiative" and tried to sneak it through the Senate Finance Committee. The measure would give a 25 percent tax credit to landowners who sell their land or conservation easements to a land trust or government for preservation.
Sen. Phil Gramm (Rep. - Texas), however, reportedly led a charge against the stealth provision. On June 16, when the measure was to have been marked up in the Democrat-dominated committee, it simply was not acted upon at all. According to a spokesperson for the committee chairman, Sen. Max Baucus (Dem. - Montana), "We don't have any action planned at this time."
The capitol gains tax credit originally came from the Administration at the level of 50 percent. As House Bill H.R. 2290, it was the subject of an April hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee, where only advocates mainly land trusts and pork-barrel-seeking Representatives were allowed to testify. Hailed by The Nature Conservancy as their "longtime top priority," the bill, however, received a stream of negative publicity in the press because of the opposition of western lawmakers and property rights advocates.
In February, The Washington Times pointed out the resistance by Western Congressmen, who circulated a memo that the tax break would give "unprecedented comparative advantage for government and non-profit agencies over the private sector."
If passed, the tax cut "accelerates the destruction of the economy and tax-base of small and rural communities, particularly if there's high public land ownership," the memo said, according to the newspaper.
The newspaper featured this writer, Carol W. LaGrasse, saying, "This is just another nail in the coffin of private-property owners in rural America."
If the Senate committee had passed the measure, the next place would have been the floor for a full Senate vote.
The President's original memo in support of the measure when it was included in the fiscal 2003 budget during February, lauded it as "an incentive for private, voluntary land protection."
"Private land owners who voluntarily sell land or water to a government agency or qualified conservation organization for conservation purposes are eligible for the exclusion," stated the budget summary.
In a common distortion of the meaning of private conservation, the budget summary stated, "This incentive is another example of a cost effective, non-regulatory, market-based approach to conservation."
Luckily, people in Washington who have been who have been campaigning against CARA, conservation easements, and other federal land grabs, spotted the proposal and brought it to national attention. The measure was then the subject of the sneak hearing in the House, followed by the slippery method to try to get a Senate committee vote in favor.
LaGrasse is the president of the Property Rights Foundation of America, a Stony Creek, New York,-based organization dedicated the constitutional right to own and use private property.