"Legislative Victory for Land Conservation," reads the alert from the Land Trust Alliance. The e-mail reports sweet news for anyone chafing under the Los Angeles-ization of the Evergreen State: the re-establishment of tax incentives for donated easements to conserve sensitive lands and open spaces.
It's farsighted policy making, but at a price: The easement extension was hitched to a $300 billion colossus of a farm bill.
Perhaps "colossus" is too effete and Roman Empire-sounding. We should think of the farm bill as a hulking, slithering mass, a hemorrhaging mountain of dinero for big-farm profiteers. On May 16, The New York Times weighed in with an editorial titled, "A Disgraceful Farm Bill:"
The bill is an inglorious piece of work tailored to the needs of big agriculture and championed by not only the usual bipartisan farm state legislators but also the Democratic leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Every five years we get a new farm bill, and each time we are reminded that even reformers like Ms. Pelosi cannot resist the blandishments and power of the farmers.
The bill includes the usual favors, such as a tax break for racehorse breeders pushed by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader. But the greater and more embarrassing defect is that the bill perpetuates the old subsidies for agriculture at a time when the prices that farmers are getting for big row crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat have never been better. Net farm income is up 50 percent.
Legislation, we know, demands buttonholing, horse trading, and other folksy euphemisms for "compromise." Maybe farm bills get ornamented with too many goodies and simply become veto proof?
For example, $4 billion was added to boost food stamps for struggling families. What better tool to lure the votes of left and right-coast lawmakers than food policy for the poor?
In the old days, whenever that was, Congress would produce semi-sensible appropriations bills that would subsequently get larded with earmarks for West Virginia FBI labs, water projects, and museums dedicated to the memory of Lawrence Welk. Good bills decorated with pork. With today's farm bills, it's largely the opposite: pork bills decorated with good things.
Make no mistake, tax incentives for conservation easements are a boon for the Northwest. As a result of the 2008 farm bill, we'll have ranch land, open space, and wild places that might otherwise have been gobbled up and lost forever.
So, let's celebrate this victory for land conservation while not forgetting from wince it came. As we say in Everett, "You gotta dance with the one who brought yah."
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