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How the ultra-wealthy use government funds to finance their backyards

Some of the wealthiest people in the world live (or pretend to live) in Jackson, Wyoming. That includes some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Digging into the property tax records, we discovered that one of the most successful actors in film history pays less in property tax than a single mom living on less land. What gives? Why are rich people paying less in property tax than working people?

The answer has to do with a thing called a conservation easement. A conservation easement is essentially an agreement between a landowner and the government that says, “I promise I’ll keep my property from certain kinds of building projects”. In return, the government gives the landowner massive tax benefits on the federal and local levels.

In this episode, Chris digs into the history of these instruments to understand what they are and how they are impacting rural Wyoming and the rest of the country.

UPDATE: The original version of this episode contained an error that has since been corrected. The original version stated that getting an $800,000 tax deduction was essentially the same as getting an $800,000 refund. That is incorrect. My apologies.

Helpful links:

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think about public land?
  • Do conservation easements seem fair?
  • Are conservation easements a helpful way to preserve the environment or government-sponsored private land? Both?
  • What should Jackson locals do to make the property taxes fair?
  • How do you feel when you learn that taxation practices favor the rich?
  • Are there conservation easements where you live?
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