House budget proposal will expand state’s environmental protections
House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) led a successful, bipartisan effort to raise the cap on the Conservation Land Tax Credit, a statewide initiative that provides incentives for preserving open space in Massachusetts. Representative Jones filed the proposal as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2019 House budget, with 49 other cosponsors. The amendment was unanimously approved by a vote of 152-0 on April 26.
Currently capped at $2 million annually, the amount of money available through the tax credit would increase under Representative Jones’ proposal by increments of $1 million a year beginning on January 1, 2019, until it reaches $5 million in 2021. The increase would sunset on December 31, 2029, with the annual cap reverting back to $2 million.
“Since its inception, the Conservation Land Tax Credit has successfully preserved thousands of acres of land across the Commonwealth,” said Representative Jones. “Raising the annual cap on this program will not only help to clear the backlog of pending applications, but will also provide expanded opportunities for open space conservation that will result in many important environmental benefits throughout Massachusetts.”
Established in 2009, the Conservation Land Tax Credit was first offered in 2011 as an incentive for landowners to voluntarily donate qualifying conservation land to the state, a municipality, or a nonprofit conservation organization. The tax credit is equal to 50 percent of the fair market value of the donated property, with a maximum credit of $75,000 for each qualifying donation. For every $1 in tax credits issued under this program, the state has leveraged $4.29 of private land donated value.
Since its inception, the Conservation Land Tax Credit has provided nearly $12.79 million in tax credits to complete 258 projects, resulting in the permanent protection of 11,479 acres of donated conservation land. The number of protected acres is expected to reach 12,146 by the end of the year, which would bring the total value of the land that has been preserved to date to nearly $51.9 million.
Representative Jones noted that the increased cap is needed to address a growing backlog of applications for the tax credit. As of April 4, there are 79 pending requests for tax credits around the state totaling just over $5 million. Nearly $2 million has already been committed to 30 projects in 2018, leaving another $3.3 million in requested projects being pushed into 2019 and 2020.
Because the Conservation Land Tax Credit operates on a first-come, first-served basis, any new applications received this year will not be eligible for funding until 2020, at the earliest. Increasing the cap would help clear up the waiting list and would allow more property owners to take advantage of the tax credit while also ensuring that more of the state’s natural resources are protected.
“The success of this program illustrates the importance of public and private collaboration on land conservation,” said The Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Massachusetts Chapter, Wayne Klockner. “The program has leveraged almost $5 in private investment for every state dollar in credit to keep drinking water clean, provide habitat for wildlife [and] support our tourism and agricultural and forestry industries.”
“Our 130-member organizations are grateful to the House of Representatives for increasing the annual cap for the tax credit to help meet the demand of conservation-minded citizens,” said the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition, Carolyn Sedgwick. “From the Berkshires to the Cape, land trusts are working with their communities to conserve water and ecological resources, farmlands and forests, and increase resiliency to climate change.”
Before the cap increase can take effect, it must be approved by the Massachusetts Senate and signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker. The Senate is expected to release its own version of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget on May 10.