By John Burnett
December 11, 2019
Since the early 2000s, the Internal Revenue Service has been fighting to undermine and ultimately nullify tax incentives put in place by Congress to reward taxpayers for conserving private land.
The IRS has used its auditing power as a cudgel, unilaterally changed the rules, and even taken taxpayers to court, where the agency has lost time and again. Now, turning to scare-tactics as a last resort, the IRS is threatening to bring criminal cases.
The prolonged intimidation campaign shows just how far the IRS is willing to go when it sees taxpayer dollars it thinks it should be entitled to, especially at a time when tax revenues are up. However, the agency’s latest escalation — especially considering its promise to get back on track after having to apologize for targeting conservative groups — should be a wakeup call to private taxpayers that the IRS is falling back on old habits.
The incentives in question are part of a program designed to encourage the voluntary donation of conservation easements, a tool established nearly 40 years ago.