The Conservation Easement Tax Expenditure - In Search of Conservation Value
By: Roger Colinvaux
Federal tax law has long provided a tax benefit for charitable contributions of easements for conservation purposes. A fundamental problem with this conservation easement tax expenditure is that the measure for the tax benefit – lost economic development value – is erroneous. Use of such an erroneous measure obscures the conservation benefits of the program by focusing attention and resources on divining a largely extraneous and unhelpful number. Further, to a considerable extent, the easement program is reflexively justified and understood based on this false measure, as if it represented the conservation value of the program. The Article argues that, in theory, the measure for the tax benefit should be changed to one that better approximates conservation value. This would help ensure that the program is efficient, in the sense that conservation benefits would exceed program costs.
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