House passes Gerlach bill on land preservation

WASHINGTON – Property owners seeking to preserve their land would receive enhanced federal tax incentives under a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.) and passed by the House Thursday.

The plan from Gerlach, of Chester County, would make permanent and expand a tax break for property owners who donate development rights to federal agencies. He co-sponsored the proposal with U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D., Calif.), and it was wrapped into a package of charitable tax incentives that cleared the House Thursday in a 277-130 vote.

Speaking on the House floor, Gerlach said the bill would give property owners an option for preserving their land even as they faced rising tax bills for what is likely their family’s most valuable asset, providing “the freedom, the opportunity and the certainty they deserve when making critical choices about the future of their land.”

He noted that the bill had more than 200 co-sponsors.

“The conservation easement incentive enjoys broad bipartisan support in Washington because it works in our communities,” he said. His office said the incentive has helped preserve thousands of acres of farmland and open space in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Gerlach’s proposal would increase the amount a property owner can deduct in a given year to 50 percent of adjusted gross income, up from 30 percent in the conservation easement law that expired in December. The plan would also allow for carrying forward unused tax deductions for 15 years, up from five. Farmers and ranchers could deduct all of their adjusted gross income in a given year. 

The plan would cost $1.1 billion in foregone revenue over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Democrats criticized Republicans for extending several tax cuts without paying for them, and singling out certain tax breaks without considering others that have also expired.

The bill now awaits consideration by the Senate.

You can follow Tamari on Twitter or email him at