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Federal government targets sportsmen’s dollars to reduce deficit

Posted in: News Media
Oct 31, 2012
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The Arizona Game and Fish Commission is making the public aware of a looming threat to crucial conservation funding by the federal government’s proposed sequestration of conservation trust funds, an action that could reduce Arizona’s wildlife conservation funding by several million dollars.

“The Greatest Story Never Told” is the mantra extolled by the nation’s wildlife conservation community in the 75th anniversary of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) programs being celebrated this year. Far-sighted, forward-looking sportsmen worked with Congress in 1937 to pass the Pittman-Robertson Act, whereby excise taxes on certain hunting equipment are collected by the Internal Revenue Service in a trust fund and apportioned by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to state fish and wildlife agencies for wildlife conservation. The program was so successful that subsequent amendments and additional acts (Dingell-Johnson Act of 1950 and Wallop-Breaux Act of 1984) were enacted to expand the excise tax to include fishing equipment, archery gear and motorboat fuel.

These funds are the backbone of state wildlife funding, along with the dedication of license revenues. Since 1939, states have integrated these funds into the core financing for wildlife conservation. Success of the program has been monumental, achieving restoration of elk, bighorn sheep and other wildlife populations, constructing and operating shooting ranges and boat ramps, providing hunter education to hundreds of thousands of youngsters, developing a modern fish hatchery program, conserving of our wildlife heritage, while contributing more than $2 billion dollars annually to the economy (more than either golf or professional sports) in Arizona.

Each state and territory made binding commitments through assent legislation that these trust funds (and license fees) would be used only for wildlife conservation or outdoor recreation benefit. The federal government only administers these funds in trust, passing them through to the state wildlife agencies. 

Under previous administrations, the WSFR funds and boating safety funds were exempt from sequestration in the Graham-Rudman-Hollings Act [Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985]. The Act specifically provided that “payments to trust funds from excise taxes or other receipts properly creditable to such trust funds” are “exempt from reduction.”  

Ironically, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has now ruled that a portion of these funds must be sequestered (or withheld) under provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011. While this action only sequesters funds from being apportioned to state wildlife agencies, and does not, in and of itself, divert the funds, it does set the stage for a future congressional “sweep” of these funds from the trust accounts into the federal treasury. The fact that this diversion could occur is the ultimate irony and a breach of trust—federal agencies charged with the fiduciary protection of these trust funds could become the architects of the only successful diversion in the fund’s history.

Under OMB’s decision, excise taxes would still be collected from manufacturers of hunting and fishing equipment. Excise taxes would still be paid by hunters, anglers, archers, boaters and shooters. Interest would still accrue in the various accounts. However, the proposed action denies the full apportionment of funds to states for fish and wildlife conservation and boating safety beginning Jan. 2, 2013. 

Sequestration is a critical concern to all sportsmen and conservationists. Every state could see severe reductions in administration, boating safety, and WSFR, directly affecting programs, permanent agency jobs, agency resources, and agencies' ability to provide public access for hunting, fishing, boating and shooting. 

“Conservation of wildlife, public safety and our outdoor recreation heritage are at risk,” said Larry Voyles, director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “In Arizona, the impact could be as much as several million dollars annually, with cuts to wildlife restoration, sport fish restoration, boating safety, and other important programs.”

State wildlife agencies are working diligently with the federal administration to remove state Trust Funds from sequestration, currently to no avail. “This is an important issue that has received little publicity to date,” said Director Voyles. “All who cherish their wildlife heritage and are concerned with the future of wildlife management must be made aware of these issues. No alternative federal or private funding is available to fill this gap.”

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