Policy Action: The Tax Bill and Conservation

2c900331-cbcf-426e-a276-d452e9b3d843 Members of Congress have spent the past few weeks feverishly working to complete and pass the GOP’s top priority: tax reform. Both the House and Senate agreed on a compromise to the GOP tax plan and it is expected to be signed into law.
 
Pheasants Forever has been active in the tax reform process -- looking out for conservation’s best interests.  While we do not have an organizational position on the entire tax reform package, we have advocated for two components of the bill and been active on other tax topics.
 

Incentives for Charitable Giving

Shortly after the House passed their version, and right before Thanksgiving when there was a window of time to make Senate modifications, we asked the Senate to consider other incentives for charitable giving. The House version (and ultimately the Senate version) would raise the standard deduction. Charities like ours could lose out as less people would be able to itemize their taxes. This modification was not included largely due to the cost. As such, we ask you to please take advantage of this final opportunity and consider giving to Pheasants Forever before the end of the year.
 

Pay-Go (Avoiding A Sequester)

We also worked with other commodity and conservation groups to ask House and Senate leadership to provide a waiver for a law known as Pay-Go, also known as sequestration. If enacted as is, the tax package will contribute to the deficit and thus trigger sequestration, which halts spending and that would include conservation dollars. House and Senate leadership have issued statements ensuring that a waiver will be added so that important USDA programs were not subject to cuts. 

Since the enactment of the Pay-Go law in 2010, congress has not yet allowed the sequester to take effect. Quail Forever wants that to continue.
 

Charitable Conservation Easement Program

Also on the tax front, Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever joined in support of Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2017. This legislation is designed to curtail the ability to use the tax deduction for conservation easement donations to gain access to very large federal tax deductions. 

These transactions are essentially tax shelters and cannot be allowed to continue. IRS data released in 2017 show that a sampling of these transactions enabled investors to claim, on average, deductions valued at nine times the amount of their original investment. And the bloated nature of these transactions also appears to be showing up in the amount of federal deductions that taxpayers are claiming from the donation of conservation easements.

In the most current data available, the value of conservation easements donated nearly tripled — from $1.1 billion to $3.2 billion — from 2013 to 2014.  If these transactions continue, they pose a profound threat to easement incentives.  Congress could reduce or even erase federal tax incentives for conservation easement donations.