Anti-Forever Wild Bill Advances in House
On Wednesday, the House State Government Committee passed a revised version of HB 362. This bill calls for a constitutional amendment to require the Forever Wild Land Trust to pay property taxes on lands purchased through the program. Currently these lands are exempt from property taxes, as are all lands owned by the state. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City) introduced a substitute during the committee meeting that provides for these taxes to be paid from the Forever Wild Stewardship Fund in the event the program is not reauthorized in 2032. The stewardship fund was set up through the initial passage of Forever Wild to ensure the program was self-sustaining in perpetuity. Funds are deposited into the stewardship fund each time a piece of property is purchased so that money is available for maintenance of purchased lands. If these funds are used to pay property taxes before the cost of maintaining those lands, it jeopardizes the sustainability of the program.
The only members of the committee to vote “No” on HB 362 were Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) and Rep. Harry Shiver (R-Stockton). The other twelve committee members all voted “Yes” despite receiving more than 300 emails each from voters like you asking them to protect Forever Wild.
The House will be back in session on Tuesday, February 13, and we will be watching closely to see if they take up HB 362 for consideration. Ask your state legislators to vote NO on HB 362 so we can preserve our state’s public lands!
The Forever Wild Land Trust board held its quarterly meeting on Thursday, providing a prime chance to see the program’s value. Landowners and community members from around the state came to Montgomery to advocate for new acquisitions by the program and to give examples of the its impact. A representative from the Tannehill Ironworks State Park spoke in favor of adding a new tract adjacent to the park, where it will be used to extend trails that are currently used by mountain bikers from across the country. “If you go to the Alabama Visitors Bureau,” he noted, “the #1 thing people are interested in is trails.”
A member of the Village Point Foundation in Daphne spoke in favor of a new addition in the D’Olive Creek area, which would provide public access to a boat launch and a connection to a popular existing park as well as habitat conservation and beneficial stormwater drainage. This sort of project is a great example of how public lands can be helpful for our environment, our economy, and our communities.
It’s clear that Alabamians care about Forever Wild and appreciate what it brings to our state. As the legislative session progresses we will keep you up-to-date on any bill that threatens our public lands and ask you to speak up at strategic moments to advocate for our state.