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2017 End of Year Congressional Update

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By Coleman Garrison

As Congress wraps up its work for 2017 and NACD looks ahead to the new year, we wanted to let you know where things stand on a few topics.

This week, Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown of the federal government by passing another short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) which will fund the federal government at the prior year’s levels through January 19, 2018. It is unfortunate that Congress cannot come to an agreement on a long-term funding bill, because we all know that these 2-3 week bills make it very difficult for NRCS to plan ahead and leave our conservation districts who operate out of federal-owned buildings in the lurch.

When Congress returns from recess after the new year, they will once again face the challenge of funding the federal government.

Due to the natural disasters that wreaked havoc across the country over the last several months, the House of Representatives also passed a supplemental disaster funding bill alongside the CR this week. The disaster bill provided some much-needed funding to emergency programs which help conservation.

$541 million was included for the Emergency Watershed Program (EWP), and another $400 million was included for the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP). These programs help farmers and ranchers recover after floods, fires, or other natural disasters by helping landowners and project sponsors – such as conservation districts – remove debris; restore fences, conservation structures, and levees; and protect eroded streambanks, among other practices. Although this nearly $1 billion infusion would help address backlogs in these programs, the Senate did not vote on the disaster bill this week, and we must now wait until January, when it is expected the Senate will take up consideration of the bill.

One legislative package that Congress did pass was tax reform.

While the majority of the policy changes included within the tax reform package do not affect conservation districts or conservation in general, there were two areas to which NACD was paying attention.

  • The first provision is the part of the tax code that allows for the tax deductibility of conservation easement donations. Although there is some criticism about this provision’s accessibility, this tax reform package does nothing to repeal or alter this part of the tax code.
  • The second provision relates to the future of the estate tax. While the House and Senate versions of tax reform included different approaches, the final version passed by both chambers would double the exemption from the current limit of $5.5 million to a new threshold of approximately $11 million. NACD’s internal policy as passed by its members advocates for a complete elimination of the estate tax.

As we look ahead to 2018, NACD’s Government Affairs team will continue working on your behalf to advance policies which help conservation, including the expected start of formal discussions on the next Farm Bill when Congress returns in the new year.

Coleman Garrison is NACD’s Director of Government Affairs and can be reached via email at coleman-garrison@nacdnet.org.

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