- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday he is troubled by a bill lawmakers passed this week that would put a cap on the value of land that can be placed into conservation in exchange for tax credits.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, said he is considering amending the legislation to increase or eliminate the $50 million annual cap on land allowed into the program.

It allows farmers and landowners to put the property off-limits to development in exchange for breaks on state taxes and has been one of the state’s most effective land conservation and environmental initiatives.

The credits were contained in a bill that also fully repeals the estate tax, a levy imposed posthumously on the holdings of millionaires. The bill was critical to budget negotiators reaching an agreement last week on a new state budget just two weeks before the current budget expires.

“I’m considering the substance of the bill in connection with moves I make on the budget,” Mr. Kaine said.

“I believe very strongly that the program, if it were enacted as it is in the bill right now, would … make it significantly more difficult to preserve land in the way I want to and the way we’re obligated to under the Chesapeake Bay pact that we’re in.”

Mr. Kaine, however, is aware that any changes to the deal could affect the budget, which must be ready to take effect by July 1. If he eliminates the limitations on total value of land that can be placed in the program in a year, the tax credits could cut too deeply into state revenues, potentially throwing the budget out of balance.

The conservation easement tax credits were capped to reduce what had become a growing drain on state revenues as more landowners each year applied for the credits.

The caps also clash with Mr. Kaine’s environmental policy goals. Mr. Kaine wants to put 400,000 acres of land off-limits to development during his term.

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