Mike Thompson Watch


Mike Thompson Bill
To Allow Commercial Development of Conservation Easements

(January 22, 2011)

On January 20, 2011 Mike Thompson introduced a bill, H.R. 390, To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide an exclusion from the gross estate for certain farmlands and lands subject to qualified conservation easements, and for other purposes. It is the "other purposes," that need to be looked at closely.

As followers of Mike know, one of his main purposes in Congress has been to reduce taxation on his friends, the owners of vineyards and wineries in Napa County (of course any law to that affect applies to the entire nation and may include all farms, both corporate and family owned).

H.R. 390 [full text H.R. 390] is ostensibly to prevent an estate tax from being levied on agricultural lands that have been converted, in part, to conservation easements. That makes some sense as public policy, although I wonder if it would make such easements more of a tax dodge than a genuine public-private partnership for conservation.

390, however, contains an interesting provision to strike a section of the IRS code that says " the restriction on the use of such interest described in section 170(h)(2)(C) shall include a prohibition on more than a de minimis use for a commercial recreational activity." In fact that section of 390 is called "SEC. 4. MODIFICATION OF DEFINITION OF QUALIFIED CONSERVATION EASEMENT."

So, that would mean that on a conservation easement you can develop commercial recreation activity and still not have to pay inheritance tax on the land.

As this nation becomes an increasingly aristocratic one, more and more of the tax burden is dumped on the middle class and working class. The Princes of Napa, the software kings, the industrialists, and families that inherit but do nothing in particular see their wealth increase without taxation (minimal capital gains and inheritance taxes). The rest of us become more like serfs, or beggars, with each passing decade.

Thompon's bill has been refered to the House Committee on Ways and Means. Mike Thompson is a member of that committee. Right now the Republican Party has a majority and normally would kill any bill submitted by a Democrat. But since this bill helps rich people and endangers the environment, the Committee may very well pass it or incorporate it into another bill written by the Republican members.

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Mike Thompson is the current elected member of the United States House of Representatives for California's 1st Congressional District.