Two Bad Bills Threaten Maine Land Trusts
There is growing and troubling support in Augusta for two bills that would end tax exemption eligibility for land trusts in Maine: LD 727 and LD 1521 (details below). In the past, similar bills have been unanimously defeated in committee, but this week LD 727 received support from four members of the Taxation Committee. And, we are hearing growing support among rank and file Republican legislators who will soon be asked to vote on these two bills when they arrive in the House and Senate. Both bills are direct attacks on land trusts, declaring our work to be neither charitable nor benevolent.
Even if your land trust pays property taxes and would not be directly impacted by these bills, it is important for the broader community to stand up in defense of our work. The legislature should not be singling out land trusts among all non-profits and declaring our lands ineligible for property tax exemption. Here are some talking points that may help you as you speak to legislators and others in your communities about these bills.
- Not fair to single out land trusts among all non-profits as not being charitable and benevolent. Share information about the charitable and benevolent work your land trust does for their constituents, including economic benefits.
- This is not a solution to rising property taxes. There is misinformation circulating within the legislature, municipal governments, and elsewhere that all or most land trust lands are off the tax rolls. In fact, more than 80% of the acres owned by land trusts are not tax exempt and more than 95% of all land conserved by land trusts, which includes conservation easements, is not tax exempt.** (See explanation below.) At most, these two bills would impact 75,000 acres statewide, which represents less than 0.38% of Maine. These bills would have very little impact on property tax revenue generation, but would significantly impact many land trusts and the charitable and benevolent work they do.
- Land trust land does not require many government services. One of the few government services these lands require is fire protection. And, the overwhelming majority of land trust conserved lands are already subject to the Forest Excise tax, a tax that funds government efforts to fight forest fires.
- The current system works. Land trusts and municipalities work closely together around the state (share your experiences). Through these working relationships, the issue of property taxes is addressed differently in different communities and for different properties. There is no need for the state to deny property tax exemption as an option for all municipalities.
More Information About the Bills
LD 727: this bill was voted out of the Taxation Committee, with eight members voting ought not to pass (Senators Dow and Chenette; and Representatives Cooper, Grant, Tipping, McCreight, Stanley, and Terry) and four members voting in favor (Senator Cushing, and Representatives Bickford, Hilliard, and Ward). LD 727 has language that would make land trust owned land ineligible for property tax exemption, declaring that these lands are “not a charitable and benevolent purpose.”
LD 1521: this bill was introduced by the Governor and is scheduled for a public hearing on May 9. LD 1521 includes the same language as LD 727, but goes a step farther by making Open Space current use taxation more restrictive for land trusts. The bill’s Open Space language has technical issues and could be unconstitutional. However, opposition to this bill should focus on the language it shares with LD 727. LD 1521 also includes two other sections that do not specifically apply to land trusts.
How to Contact Your Legislator
Here is a link to find contact information for your legislators: http://legislature.maine.gov/house/townlist.htm
For More Information
Please contact MCHT’s Public Policy Manager Jeff Romano for more information. And please share with him any feedback you receive from your legislators.
** Land Trusts/Property Taxation
Statewide Data – December 2016
Land Trust Preserves
|Total Land Trust Preserves||488,756|
|Added since Census (estimate)||~35,000|
|TNC Land in UT not eligible for Open Space2||(64,000)|
|Land Trust Preserves on the Tax Rolls3||>394,558||80.7%|
|Land Trust Preserves with PILOTs (estimate)||~20,000||4.1%|
|Land Trust Tax Exempt Preserves with no PILOTs||<75,000||15.3%4|
All Land Trust Conserved Lands
|Total Conservation Easements on private land5||1,950,304|
|All Land Trust Conservation Easements1||2,055,304|
|Added since Census (estimate)||~10,000|
|Third party Easements6 (estimate)||(~115,000)|
|Total Land Trust Conserved Land||2,439,060|
|Conservation Easements on private land||1,950,304|
|Land Trust Preserves||488,756|
|Land Trust Conserved Land on Tax Rolls||2,344,862||96.1%|
|Conservation Easements on private land||1,950,304|
|Land Trust preserves on Tax Rolls||394,558|
- Numbers based on census data collected by Maine Coast Heritage Trust in 2015, published March 31, 2016. Numbers also include data from Appalachian Mountain Club (they were not part of the census).
- The Nature Conservancy has been trying to pay taxes or make PILOTs on this land for years, but current laws prevent them from doing so.
- This figure includes information from the following land conservation organizations: Appalachian Mountain Club, Downeast Lakes Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Northeast Wilderness Trust, Maine Wilderness Watershed Trust, Great Works Regional Land Trust, Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, Maine Woodland Owners, Kennebec Land Trust, Greater Lovell Land Trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, York Land Trust, Loon Echo Land Trust, Blue Hill Heritage Trust, Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust, Midcoast Conservancy, Pleasant River Foundation, Androscoggin Land Trust, Downeast Coastal Conservancy, Brunswick Topsham Land Trust, New England Forestry Foundation, Forest Society of Maine, Monhegan Associates, Sebasitcook Regional Land Trust, Frances Small Heritage Trust, and Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance. These organizations keep all or some of their preserves on the tax rolls. The number of 394,558 acres reflects those lands owned by these organizations that are not tax exempt. This list only includes those organizations that responded to a request for information. The actual number of land trust preserve acres on the tax rolls could be higher.
- Land trust land that is tax exempt with no PILOTs represents less than 0.38% of Maine.
- Conservation easements on private lands are not tax exempt. This land is still on the tax rolls.
- Third party easements are conservation easements on properties owned by another land trust (data captured under Land Trust Preserve section) or a government entity.