Conservation Victories as Legislative Session Nears Completion

In the days leading up to their statutory adjournment date, Maine lawmakers from both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly supported two initiatives backed by the state’s land trust community: a blanket sales tax exemption for nonprofits and a $30 million Trails Bond.

Sales Tax Exemption

Maine currently exempts many nonprofits from sales tax, but more than 5,000 charitable organizations, including land trusts, must pay a sales tax when purchasing items necessary to further their missions. Over the past year, MCHT has been working closely with the Maine Association of Nonprofits (MANP) to correct this shortcoming in the state’s tax laws.

In 2023, the legislature passed a resolve calling for a study of the issue. Based on the findings, the Mills Administration included language in this year’s Supplemental Budget proposal to make sales tax exemption applicable to all 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Both parties voted in agreement with the Governor and on April 22, the chief executive signed the exemption into law.

Beginning on January 1, 2025, all nonprofits in Maine will be exempt from paying sales tax. As the bill is implemented over the next eight months, we will be providing information on how land trusts can take advantage next year.

Trails Bond

In 2023, MCHT and numerous land trusts from around the state joined a coalition of organizations and businesses in support of a $30 million Trails Bond (LD 1156) that calls for an annual investment of $7.5 million over four years to enhance recreational trail infrastructure around the state. After receiving overwhelming favorable votes in both the House and Senate, the bond request will now be sent to Maine voters for ratification in November. A campaign to promote bond passage will be formed in the weeks ahead.

If approved by Maine voters, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will develop a competitive grant program to distribute the funds. The bill lays out some of the program’s parameters. For example, the money will be available in the following categories: 50% for multi-use trails, 25% for motorized trails, and 25% for non-motorized trails. Eligible applicants will include municipalities, state agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Applicants will also be required to provide at least 10% in match.

Remaining Issues

When the legislature adjourned in the early hours of April 18, legislative leaders anticipated calling legislators back in May to address potential vetoes. As they left Augusta, policymakers had not completed their work on dozens of other bills, including conservation-related proposals dealing with the Open Space Tax Law and the Mining Excise Tax. The fate of these proposals remains in limbo, since it has now become unclear whether the legislature can address anything other than vetoes when they return to the State House.