Good afternoon Senator Dow, Representative Tipping, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation. My name is Eliza Donoghue. I am here today on behalf of the 20,000 members and supporters of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to speak in opposition to LD 727, An Act to Protect the Tax Base of Municipalities by Removing the Property Tax Exemption for Land Held for Conservation or Public Access Purposes.
NRCM has a long tradition of supporting land conservation in Maine, not only for our wildlife and waters, but for the many benefits conserved lands bring to their surrounding communities. The people of Maine also have a long tradition of supporting land conservation, as evidenced by the perennially successful Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program. Since its inception in 1987, LMF is consistently supported by more than 60% of Maine voters and a bipartisan majority of Maine legislators. LMF and land conservation efforts on the whole protect working farms, forests, and waterfronts and help to preserve Maine’s unique character, support ecotourism, and keep Maine an attractive place for new and growing businesses. LD 727 flagrantly disregards the innumerable benefits of land conservation, seeks to deny Maine people of those benefits, and above all mischaracterizes the practices and reputation of Maine’s land trusts.
Contrary to the sentiment expressed by this bill, approximately 95% of land conserved by land trusts remains on municipal tax rolls. Of the remaining 5% of lands that are tax exempt, approximately 1% make Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS), often greater than or equal to what the property taxes would have been had the property remained on the tax rolls. No more than 4% of land trust properties in Maine are tax exempt with no PILOTs being paid.
In the few communities where some land trust conserved lands do not pay property taxes, the average property owner in that community receives benefits that significantly outweigh the minor increase in their annual property tax bill. Again, land conservation programs actively work to preserve Maine’s natural character, support tourism, and keep Maine an attractive place for existing, new, and growing businesses. The LMF program alone is credited with preserving 56 water access projects up and down Maine’s coast that support our working waterfront, nearly 10,000 acres of working farmland, and nearly 600,000 acres of conservation and recreation lands that support tourism, outdoor recreation, and working forests. Land conservation keeps land productive and protects the Maine way of life.
For these reasons, we urge you to vote OUGHT NOT TO PASS on LD 727.