Editor of the Reformer,
In recent months, national publications have drawn attention to abuses of a key tool to protect open space around the country.
Some bad actors, as the IRS calls them, are securing properties and marketing them as investment opportunities. They place a conservation easement on the property and then claim deductions far greater than the money they put into the property.
According to IRS data obtained by the Land Trust Alliance, 296 entities claimed $9.2 billion in unwarranted deductions in 2018.
That’s unfortunate, because the tax benefits from a conservation easement have also helped nonprofits work with thousands of landowners who want to help the environment, and their community. The Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association, for instance, now has 26 miles of trails and 2,100 acres of land in five towns here in Windham County, and conservation easements are part of assembling such wildlife and recreational corridors.
To protect such work while curbing abuses by others, I hope that Congress will act on a bill known as the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act this year.
It is designed to prevent unscrupulous investors from quickly inflating the value of their deduction while making sure that tax incentives remain in place for philanthropic landowners who want to benefit the public good.
Passage of that legislation, and a separate push to give the IRS more money to catch high-end tax cheats, would both be welcome developments in the months to come.
James "Silos" Roberts
Chair, Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association
Rockingham, Vt., Nov. 25