BOISE, Idaho A new poll shows that a majority of Idaho voters like the idea of using income tax credits as an incentive for farmers and ranchers to protect their land forever from subdivisions and urban growth.
The poll released Thursday was commissioned by a diverse group of ranchers, growers, loggers, sportsmen and conservationists, and was underwritten by The Nature Conservancy.
The coalition used the survey to gauge voter sentiment on protecting farms and ranches, statewide growth and using tax dollars as a tool to protect valuable lands.
The poll also focused on the fundamentals of a bill that would allow the state to issue as much as $3 million worth of income tax credits each year to landowners who agree to preserve their land with conservation easements. The "Idaho Ranch, Farm and Forest Protection Act," to be introduced in the 2008 Legislature, would also allow landowners to sell their income tax credits for cash.
According to the poll, 83 percent of Idaho voters support using tax credits as a tool to encourage the protection of ranches, farms, private forests and open space.
The telephone poll of 400 voters from around the state, conducted by Moore Information of Portland, Ore., was taken Nov. 27-28 and has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The poll also found that 70 percent favor setting aside even more state money to preserve land around lakes and streams to protect fish, wildlife habitat and natural areas. When asked whether they would pay higher taxes to finance the tax credit proposal, 64 percent they would dish out $20 per year and 67 percent backed paying $10 per year.
Bob Moore, president of Moore Information, said he was surprised by the results given the state's historic distaste for new taxes of any kind.
"I was shocked," Moore told a Thursday news conference.
The poll also found that support for the tax credit crossed party lines, although the idea was favored more heavily by Democrats than Republicans. The idea of using tax incentives for conservation had support from 88 percent of those identified as Democrats and 81 percent of Republicans, according to results.
Other results of the poll include:
51 percent of respondents said the rate of growth in their community is too fast.
On quality of life issues, 66 percent said they were either very or fairly concerned about the conversion of farms and forests into urban developments. And 65 percent said they were either very or fairly concerned about the loss of family farms and ranches.
Only 31 percent agreed that the Legislature had no business using tax dollars to pay farmers and ranchers to keep land intact.
The protection bill was introduced in the 2007 Legislature, but languished and died in the House Tax and Revenue Committee.
In a bid to win support in 2008, the coalition organized bus tours across the state last summer and invited lawmakers to meet with farmers and ranchers interested in preserving their land, but dissuaded by the drop in property values for land tied up in a conservation easement. The easements are legally binding on land, even when it is sold to another party.
The bill is modeled after measures already in place in other states, such as Colorado, which has experienced increased growth in the use of conservation easements, said Laird Noh, a sheep rancher from Kimberly, former Republican state senator and Nature Conservancy board member.
"Our hope is that this will encourage a certain set of landowners ... those near retirement who want to keep the land intact," Noh said. "This provides an incentive if a developer comes along and offers a big price tag."
Despite the positive poll results, coalition members acknowledge it will be a struggle to win legislative support, especially since lawmakers would have to find a way to offset a potential loss of $3 million in state income taxes.
"It's a challenging environment for us ... and it's a complicated proposal," said Suzanne Budge, who will lobby the measure. "But the details are less important than the outcome."