Testimony in Opposition to LD 341, An Act to Amend the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law to Encourage Housing Construction
Senator Grohoski, Representative Perry, and members of the Committee on Taxation, I am Melanie Sturm, the Forests and Wildlife Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), and I appreciate the opportunity to provide testimony in opposition to LD 341.
NRCM is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advocates for protecting, restoring, and conserving Maine’s environment, now and for future generations. For more than 60 years, NRCM has been protecting the places and way of life that make Maine so special. We have more than 25,000 members and activists statewide.
NRCM has concerns with this bill, and the proposed amendment doesn’t assuage these concerns, nor do we believe tweaks to the language could improve the bill because its basic premise is flawed. LD 341 seeks to reduce the penalty for withdrawing land from classification under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law if the land is used for the construction of a single-family home. It would undermine the purpose of the Tree Growth Tax Law to keep forests as forests, which provide a wide range of benefits to Maine people, communities, and the environment. Since 1972, the Tree Growth Tax Law has helped Maine landowners maintain their property as working forests, preserving many benefits of the forests, including their recreational and scenic qualities, economic benefits, and use as wildlife habitat. Maine Won’t Wait, the state’s four-year climate action plan, recognized the importance of forests in capturing and storing carbon. Protections for Maine’s forests, a massive carbon sink that helps mitigate climate change, should be strengthened not weakened.
The Tree Growth Tax Law is one of the few incentives in Maine for landowners to maintain their forests. By reducing the penalty for taking land out of Tree Growth, LD 341 would strip away the mechanism that keeps landowners accountable. This could lead to gaming of the system whereby a private landowner or developer could enroll their land in Tree Growth for the tax reduction with the intent to sell later since the gains from selling for development would more than compensate for the penalty.
While we appreciate one goal of the bill – to address the lack of housing in Maine – this isn’t the right approach to solving that problem. New housing should be near service centers to avoid sprawl, not on 10-acre or larger plots of land. Sprawl has numerous negative effects on the environment, municipalities, and public health, and dense or multiunit housing should be promoted over single-family homes. Portland already has some of the worst sprawl in the country. This bill is coming at a time of unprecedented development pressure, especially in southern Maine, with 10,000 acres of forest lost annually to development.
I respectfully urge the Committee to vote Ought Not to Pass on LD 341. Thank you for your time and consideration of this issue, and I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.