Our Opinion: Successful land credit should be expanded

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The Conservation Land Tax Credit is a proven success in protecting land dedicated to farming, forestry, wildlife habitat and water quality across the Berkshires and Massachusetts. Ideally, the Legislature will expand this worthy program in the current session.

The CTLC is an incentive program encouraging landowners to donate qualifying land for permanent conservation. The state has established a $2 million cap for credits, but the demand is exceeding that amount of money. Last week, the House approved a bill co-sponsored by Rep. "Smitty" Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, that would expand the cap to $5 million.

According to the State House News Service, the CLTC has conserved approximately 13,000 acres of land since its inception in 2011, and each $1 of state tax credits has resulted an average of $4.28 in private land donated value. According to Rep. Pignatelli, who chairs the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and co-sponsor Rep. Brad Jones, the House Minority leader, the expansion to $5 million will enable more land to be preserved and insure that donors are paid promptly. The credit is equal to half of the fair market value of the donated property and the maximum credit is $75,000.

According to Rep. Pignatelli, the CLTC has resulted in 14 land donations in 10 Berkshire towns, with six more pending. The rural environment of the Berkshires is of critical importance, and a program that preserves open land for wildlife, farming and clean water is of great value.

Speaking on the floor of the House, Rep. Pignatelli said that because of the long list of applicants, landowners looking to donate their land today will have to wait until 2021 to get the desire credit. In the interim, they could change their minds or get an offer from a developer that is too good to turn down. We urge the Senate to follow the House's lead and for Governor Baker to increase the CLTC cap to $5 million. This is money well spent when it comes to preserving the open space that is diminishing in Massachusetts and merits protecting in Berkshire County.

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