Lack of Leadership in D.C. Impacts Hunters and Anglers

Hunters and anglers have something new to worry about in Washington, D.C.:   “sequestration.”  This technical term refers to looming automatic budget cuts—scheduled to go into effect in January – as a means of reducing the federal deficit.  We’re facing these cuts because the Obama Administration, Senate, and House of Representatives have not been able to agree on a federal budget and pass specific bills to fund the government, while reducing the annual deficit.  Without Congressional action to pass a budget and particular spending bills after the election, large automatic across the board funding cuts will be triggered in 2013.

Of particular concern to sportsmen are reductions of Pittman-Robertson (PR) and Dingell-Johnson (DJ) funds to state fish and game agencies.  Sequestration of these funds, which provide for hunting and fishing programs all across the country, could be an unintended and disastrous consequence of the process.

For decades, hunters and anglers have paid special federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear with the revenues going to two special federal funds:  Pittman-Robertson for hunting and Dingell-Johnson for fishing;  PR and DJ for short.  These taxes – about $31 million a year to PR and $34 million to DJ — go only to these two funds and the money can be spent only on programs to benefit hunting and fishing.  In other words, these funds were purposefully designed to be restricted to ensure that the money was not used to pave roads, build prisons, support Social Security, the Department of Defense, or any other federal program.  Furthermore, only the amount of tax revenue that actually goes into each fund can be spent – no money is ever borrowed to pay for PR or DJ projects and no other federal tax revenues support these projects. Because expenditures cannot exceed income, PR and DJ do not contribute to overall spending or contribute to the deficit.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (part of the White House) has the sole authority to decide which federal programs are subject to sequestration. The OMB has interpreted the 2011 budget law that the PR and DJ funds are “non-exempt discretionary spending” and will be sequestered.  That action, scheduled for January, will reduce the amount of PR and DJ funding available for hunting and fishing programs to the tune of $31 million and $34 million respectively. Overall $65 million of hunters and anglers dedicated taxes will be sequestered (i.e., not available for programs [see OMB Sequestration Report, Appendix A at pages 110 and 112].

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, state fish and game agencies and others have argued that the special nature of these dedicated funds means they should not be subject to sequestration.   As these funds come from special user taxes and the monies can be used only for hunting and fishing programs – and do not contribute to the deficit – they should be exempt from the sequestration cuts.

So far the White House is not listening.  Unless the White House and OMB relent, or sequestration is avoided because the Senate and House agree on a comprehensive new budget and spending bills between now and January, $65 million of PR/DJ funds will not  be distributed to the state fish and game agencies hunting and fishing programs.  These cuts represent 100% of annual PR/DJ funding.

For some of us, this is déjà vu all over again!  In the 1980’s, Congress and the Reagan Administration agreed on a similar program of automatic budget cuts called Gramm-Rudman (after two then U.S. Senators).  Like now, OMB decided that the cuts applied to PR and DJ.  Our community objected.  As Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks overseeing administration of the PR and DJ programs, I was right in the middle of it.

Fortunately we were able to persuade key members of Congress to join with us and we prevailed. OMB and the Reagan White House conceded and PR and DJ funded hunting and fishing programs were not cut. It appears it is time to dig out my letters and memos from 26 years ago to make the same case to the Obama Administration.

Subjecting PR and DJ to automatic budget cuts made no sense in 1986 and makes no sense today.  We will be carrying this message to the White House and OMB, and the Interior Department.  If the Administration won’t help, we will be on Capitol Hill asking the Senate and House to protect sportsmen’s dollars.

Our greater worry is that OMB will sequester the PR/DJ funds and let our tax revenues pile up, unspent.  When the unspent amounts total $100 million or more, we suspect that OMB will try to transfer the money – our hunting and angling equipment tax dollars – to some other federal programs.  If they try, they will meet us in federal court arguing that redirecting our tax dollars violates the law.

Hunters’ and anglers’ special excise taxes, and the good work these dollars support, should not be caught up in the political mess created by budget inaction and impasse in Washington, D.C.

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5 comments on “Lack of Leadership in D.C. Impacts Hunters and Anglers

  1. Curtis I. Taylor says:

    It is time for hunters and anglers to unite, stand up, make noise and make sure all involved know these funds are not to be used as a political football!!

  2. It is time to clean all the trash from the House & Senate. They are irresponsible as to fiscally running this great country. Greed, money & taking God out of their work for the people. They have forgotten the Constitution is WE THE PEOPLE put them there, but WE THE PEOPLE have failed & are out spent by their money, so these incompetents stay in for life without regard to the CONSTITUTION OR WE THE PEOPLE!!!!!!!

    If the Constitution keeps being shredded, PC keeps running amuck & lack of leadership in Washington, we are doomed. I am sure the Signer to the Constitution are saddened we have taken our freedoms & rights so sparsely as they gave us the tool (Constitution) to protect ourselves from GOVERNMENT, so we deserve what we get!!!!!

    I am reading all I can about the Constitution, how about the rest of you??????

    Gene Clements

  3. Dr. David A. Sartwell says:

    Hi,
    Please remember that the reason the sequestering is there is because the Congress cannot seem to pass a budget that makes any sense to the average person. For years BOTH parties have been at fault for not being fiscally responsible. Running two wars and champion tax cuts all on a credit card cannot work. In Massachusetts the then Gov. Romney tried to take the money away from the Fish an Wildlife folks only to relent after being threatened by the federal government. All sportsmen have to vocal in the coming months to make sure that whoever is elected leaves our funds alone. Given the economic conditions right now we all have to expect belt tightning, however, we have to avoid strangulation.
    Dave Sartwell

  4. Jeremy Rine says:

    Dave,

    Thanks for the comment. You make a really good point that sportsmen, in this important election year, should be vocal to the candidates (at all levels) that they should leave these types of dedicated funds, paid for by sportsmen, alone.

    Sequestration is all about an automatic “belt tightening” to reduce the federal deficit because both sides in Washington haven’t been able to come together and pass a budget. These cuts are meant to reduce the deficit.

    However, the PR/DJ funds that you and I pay for through special excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear are restricted funds and is not money that can be used to reduce the deficit – so there is absolutely no need to sequester those funds. That money can only be spent on programs that benefit hunting and fishing. Sequestering PR/DJ dollars doesn’t further the purpose of what sequestration is meant to do.

    All it will do is reduce the amount of money that will be spent on programs that help hunting and fishing and will also create a pot of unused money that some politicians might look at as something they could raid/divert to pay for other things like roads or prisons.

    Jeremy
    U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance

  5. Tim Ferrall says:

    It is certainly true that both sides of the aisle have been guilty of betraying the cause of the sportsman from time to time, but in the interest of accuracy, it should be noted that the House HAS passed a budgetfor the last three fiscal years. Said budgets have languished in the trash bin because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has refused to schedule hearings on them. So, before unleashing your swords on election day, consider which party is causing the current problems with PR and DJ.

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