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Young: Hunters need to contact their congressmen

November 18, 2012
By Walt Young - For the Mirror , The Altoona Mirror

In an attempt to cut the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, Congress passed the Budget Control Act in Aug. 2011.

This act is scheduled to trigger mandatory spending cuts on Jan. 2, 2013 to almost all agencies and programs of the federal government unless the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction proposes, and Congress then enacts, a plan to reduce the deficit. Given the current state of our economy, reducing the amount of federal spending is vital; but given the current state of federal politics, it seems unlikely such a plan will be passed before the deadline of those automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration.

Unfortunately, this effort to trim the staggering federal budget could withhold millions of dollars that have been set aside for conservation programs at the state level and would have no effect on the deficit whatsoever.

In 1937, Congress passed the Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration Act that established a federal excise tax on sporting firearms and ammunition in order to ensure an ongoing source of federal funds to be used for wildlife conservation. The money collected via this tax is placed in a special trust fund and then distributed to the individual states based on hunting license sales.

The legislation also required states to prohibit money spent for hunting licenses from being diverted to uses other than wildlife conservation. This concept proved so successful that the Federal Aid to Sport Fish Restoration Act was passed in 1950 to provide trust fund for fisheries conservation funded by an excise tax on fishing tackle.

That act was then amended in 1984 to establish the Boating Trust Fund through taxes on motorboat fuel. Other amendments over the years have expanded the excises taxes to other sporting equipment such as archery equipment, handguns, trolling motors and fish finders.

In the 75 years since the inception of these special trust funds, hunters and anglers have contributed a whopping $14 billion to state fish and wildlife agencies to fund fisheries and wildlife management; hunting, fishing and boating access; and various education and safety programs.

Hunters and anglers can be justifiably proud for having paid the lion's share of the tab for conservation for so long. More important is the fact that money spent on wildlife and our natural resources benefits the quality of life for all citizens, not only those who hunt and fish.

As someone who has contributed mightily to that cause over the years through the purchase of sporting licenses and equipment, I am furious to learn that the pinheads in Washington plan to withhold 7.6 percent of the conservation trust fund monies from the states as part of their budget sequestration plan.

This is patently ridiculous for several reasons. First, this is money that has been raised as the result of so many of us voluntarily buying sporting equipment. Next, the federal government cannot spend any of this money itself and acts only as a pass-through to the individual states that can.

And since this money can only be sent to the states to be spent for conservation, it really is not part of the federal budget and has no impact one way or the other on the federal deficit.

Remember also that here in Pennsylvania, our Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission are both independently funded agencies that receive no general tax money. Both agencies depend on the annual money from the conservation trust funds for a significant portion of their own budgets.

And because Pennsylvania is one of the top states for hunting and fishing license sales, we receive a large share of the trust-fund money.

This whole mess gets even more stupid because trust funds are supposed to exempt from sequestration. I've read a couple of explanations for why our conservation trust funds are not, but they mostly just gave me a headache trying to understand them.

Apparently, the money going into the trust fund is exempt, but the money coming from the trust fund is not - another fine example of the Washington financial witchcraft we've seen much of lately. The remedy is for Congress to amend the legislation to close the loophole.

If you want to see all the money we've paid for conservation to be released to be spent as intended, contact your U.S. senators and congressman or congresswoman and urge them to support the exemption for the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs and Boating Safety Trust Fund.

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