Thursday, January 11, 2018

Coalition Urges Governor to Reform 480 Forest Tax Law

The Empire State Forest Products Association, The Nature Conservancy and a bi-partisan group of state lawmakers as well as over 20 industry and conservation groups, have called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to fulfill his promise to reform the Forest Tax Abatement Program in the 2018 State Budget.

Coalition advocates say the existing law, the 480-a Timber Tax Law, is overly complicated, exacerbating the forest loss.

Seventy-five percent of New York’s forests that are privately held, and the 480 Tax Law offers private landowners tax deductions and benefits in exchange for sustainably managing the forests on their property. Under the existing laws, just 16 percent of eligible forest lands have been enrolled for property tax benefits.

“This longstanding property tax abatement program is in need of reform to protect New York’s forests from development and encourage sustainable forest management on private lands while also dramatically reducing the barriers to participation for private landowners,” a announcement from the coalition said.

“Reforming the law this year would provide an opportunity to modernize the program to ensure landowners receive incentives for the additional public benefits provided by their forests, including wildlife habitat and climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration.”

The coalition’s announcement also said they are seeking changes in the law would include tax relief for local governments who lose tax revenue on some privately owned forest land.

During his 2017 State of the State address, Governor Cuomo called for reform of the law, describing it as “overly complex”.

Members of the coalition include: The Nature Conservancy in New York; Senator Betty Little (R-Queensbury); Empire State Forest Products Association; New York Farm Bureau; Senator Joseph Griffo (R-Rome); Senator Tom O’Mara, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee (R-Big Flats); Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Senator Patty Ritchie (R-Heuvelton); Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-Hudson); Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell); Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne (D-Theresa); Assemblymember Pamela J. Hunter (D-Syracuse); Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay); The Business Council of New York State; Audubon New York; National Alliance of Forest Owners; American Forest Foundation; Earthjustice; and the Open Space Institute.

Photo: View of Dunham’s Bay and French Mountain from the “Van Hart” property in Fort Anne, courtesy Lake George Land Conservancy.

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4 Responses

  1. Mick Finn says:

    The current regulations incentivize sale of private forests to TNC / the state. That’s what Cuomo wants. Why would he change anything?

  2. Paul says:

    More tax breaks for land barons!

  3. John says:

    I am a professional forester. I make my living working with private landowners in managing their timberlands to meet a variety of goals such as wildlife habitat and enhancement and managing their timber. I have a significant client base under 480a which allows the landowner to have a reduced assessment on their property in exchange for managing their property for the production of forest products. 480a is a long-term lien placed on the property, it is difficult for the landowner to get out of so entering the program requires a lot of thought. While 480a is not perfect, I am hot and cold on enrolling clients for a variety of reasons, it is a means for a landowner to hold the land they enjoy in exchange for production of a forest crop. I do not see it as a vehicle for the sale of private forest to the TNC or the State as most 480a properties are small (50-100 acres) and the state and TNC are not going to purchase those properties as they are not attractive due to the scattered locations. I woudl not call any of my clients land barons. In fact, many are land rich and not wealthy. The 480a program allows for those persons to retain that property. I am gratefule for all of my clients in that they seek my services and in turn, sell their timber which employs loggers, truckers and provdes a raw material for sawmills and pulp mills. It is truly a beautiful thing when a landowner chooses to separate trees from their property. Take for example, a 100 acre woodlot that may yield 500 cord of firewood/pulpwood. By virtue of owning private property and choosing to dispose of a portion of that real property has injected approximately $50,000 into the economy at the point of it being delivered to its destination (pulpmill). The landowner gets a small portion (~$5,000), and the remaining is split between the logger and trucker which covers costs of logging and trucking as well as a small profit. Think of the economic ripple effect of that one timbr sale. Multiply that by all the logging going on and that is real stimulus, not government stimulus via fiat money. I will state that this example only accounts for the lowest value forest product (pulpwood, cordwood), not sawlogs and veneer which will be processed into durable, high-value goods. I currently have 6 timber sales going on as I write this, other foresters the same if not more. A question, would anyone be in favor of elimination the agricultural tax exemption for farmers? I doubt it. The 480a program, while imperfect, and does need changes, is the forest version of the Ag exemption. So to summarize, I am grateful for my clients and their willing to hire me and manage their timber.

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