|HARRISBURG, Pa. – Nearly a million dollars of contributions made by Pennsylvania’s anglers and boaters specifically to conserve aquatic resources, offer public access to waterways, and provide boating safety education will be withheld from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) by the federal government in 2013 if Congress fails to pass a budget before the end of the year. The federal government could breach trust with America’s anglers and boaters by sequestering their contributions from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Safety Trust Funds.
Congress passed the Budget Control Act in 2011 and mandated automatic federal spending cuts, known as sequestration, to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Unless a spending plan is enacted, those cuts will trigger on Jan. 2, 2013, and will impact nearly all taxpayer-funded federal government agencies and programs.
The Sport Fish Restoration Program and the Boating Safety Trust Fund – collectively called the Trust Funds – would suffer a 7.6 percent cut and equate to a loss of approximately $43 million to all state fish and wildlife agencies in 2013. However, unlike other programs at risk of sequestration, the Trust Funds are not taxpayer dollars derived through federal income taxes.
The Trust Funds are raised through excise taxes levied on fishing tackle and equipment and motorboat fuel that industry pays quarterly to the federal government. Sportsmen and women buy the excise-taxable items, and those revenues, combined with their purchases of fishing licenses and boat registrations, largely determine how much funding is allocated annually to state agencies like the PFBC.
“The projected financial impact of losing 7.6 percent of Pennsylvania’s portion of the Trust Funds in 2013 – $859,000 – means that we will have to reduce services to Pennsylvania anglers and boaters,” said PFBC Executive Director John Arway. “However, I believe the greater violation is the breach of trust between the anglers, boaters and businesses who pay the tax and the federal government which plans to withhold the funds from the states.”
State Boating Law Administrators, again including Pennsylvania, also would experience a 7.6 percent cut to their federal allocation, resulting in a reduction in funding available for boating safety activities, boating education, access, and boat registration and titling. Currently, there is no substitute funding mechanism to offset the loss of the Sport Fish Restoration or Boating Safety Trust Funds.
“The Trust Funds are the lifeblood of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s day-to-day efforts to restore and manage fisheries and their habitats; open and maintain recreational access for all; and keep the public safe by providing boating safety education,” said PFBC Deputy for Administration Brian Barner. “If budget sequestration takes effect, our agency will have to make tough decisions now and down the road. Potentially, we may have to reduce services like fish stocking, access area maintenance, boating education and safety, and other programs which Pennsylvania’s anglers and boaters care about deeply.”
The Sport Fish Restoration Program was established in 1950 to restore fish populations, and the Boating Safety Trust Fund followed in 1984. These programs have a proven track record of entrusting state agencies as the recipients of the nation’s users-pay, public-benefits funding system for fish and wildlife conservation.
“Over the last 62 years, sportsmen and women have always been willing to pay a little extra for the excise-taxable gear, knowing that their purchases would directly support conservation along with fishing, boating, and other wildlife-related activities,” Arway added. “Sequestering the Trust Funds will not reduce the federal deficit, and, in fact, could hurt the country’s finances by curbing the $145 billion dollar economic driver that is wildlife-related recreation, enjoyed by 90 million people each year.”
In 1985, Congress passed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, which provided that the excise tax revenues going into the Trust Funds were exempt from budget sequestrations. However, it did not specify that the money distributed from the Trust Funds to state fish and wildlife agencies was exempt from sequestration withholding.
Members of Congress can close this gap by amending the "exemption" provision found in the 1985 Act to include appropriations from such trust funds. This act of Congress would be the most long-lasting solution.
To ask members of the U.S House of Representatives and U.S. Senators Bob Casey and Patrick Toomey to exempt the Sport Fish Restoration Program and Boating Safety Trust Fund and keep the trust with America’s sportsmen and women, contact the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 or visit www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.
For more information about the potential effects of budget sequestration on fish and wildlife conservation, public safety, and the economy, go to www.fishwildlife.org.
Eric Levis, Press Secretary