VaULT Alert about Critical Land Conservation Funding
The House and Senate subcommittee reports released Sunday are bad for land conservation. Several of the harmful amendments stem from a misunderstanding of mitigation money.
Virginia has well established land conservation policies that emphasize geographic distribution of money and an increasing prioritization of public access and water quality protection. The mitigation money referenced in the subcommittee reports goes to mitigate mercury pollution in the Shenandoah Valley; power lines across Jamestown; and pipelines through our most pristine landscapes. Funding those geographic specific projects to remediate harm done should not be substituted for the Commonwealth’s established land conservation funding priorities that citizens and communities rely.
- Restore VOF’s operating budget that was cut on the Senate side ($2 million annually).
- Remove restrictions on the Land Preservation Tax Credit. Annual cap should be $50k and not $20k.
- Fund Virginia Land Conservation Foundation at $4.5 million as proposed in the Governor’s budget.
- Flexibility is needed to be able to acquire key pieces of land when they become available. Agencies should not have their hands tied.
Virginia Outdoors Foundation: Senate: Removes $2 million in General Fund each year. Senate rationale: VOF was awarded approximately $40 million through two recent mitigation agreements, thereby reducing the need for additional State investment. Recommendation: Restore $2 million per year to VOF. Cutting VOF by $2 million a year would shut down VOF. The mitigation money cannot be used for general operations except relating to management of the mitigation money. VOF background: VOF is Virginia’s leader in land conservation, protecting more than 800,000 acres in 107 counties and independent cities. VOF was created by the General Assembly in 1966.
Land Preservation Tax Credit, both houses: Recommends $20k individual cap on usage of credits. Budget writers say this will equal $6.6 million in savings per year. Recommendation: Allow individual use of credits to go to $50K as planned. There is no documentation that this cap will equal $6.6 million in annual savings. It appears that the $20K cap is hurting the market for tax credits when landowners sell their credits. Further, landowners put their property under easement in 2017 with the understanding that the limit would go back to $50k – to change the rules on them now after they have permanently preserved their land is unfair.
Virginia Land Conservation Funding: The Virginia Land Conservation Fund was reduced from $4.5M to $1.5M in the Senate, while the House eliminates all funding in the first year and restores to $4.5M in the 2nd year. Recommendation: $4.5 million per year for VLCF as recommended in the Governor’s budget. The settlement agreements represent compensation of damages to the resources. VLCF should be unaffected by the settlement – they are two different things with two different intents. VLCF background: VLCF represents the Commonwealth’s commitment to conservation. VLCF provides state matching grants on a competitive basis for the protection of open spaces and parks, natural areas, historic areas, and farmland and forest preservation in all areas of the Commonwealth. VLCF leverages local, federal, and private investment for natural resource conservation by paying no more than 50% of the project costs (state agencies are not required to provide a match). At least 50% of funding must be used for projects with public access. Projects are weighted on criteria such as a priority in Virginia Outdoors Plan or local comprehensive plan; water quality value; and public access. Projects receive more points if they provide riparian buffers.
The Department of Conservation & Recreation and Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. We are concerned about tying the agencies’ hands, and that flexibility is needed to be able to acquire key pieces of land when they become available.