Industry engagement can shape the federal budget

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It never ends: the need for recreational boating to be engaged in Washington through lobbyists and special events like the American Boating Congress in May is still strong.

For example, President Obama sent his fiscal-year 2017 budget to Congress, the last budget request he’ll make for federal programs and operations. In it are some notable projects of importance to recreational boating which the industry will, of course, support. But it also contains proposed cuts to programs we consider important and valuable.

On the plus side, the budget included significant increases to funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to a total of $1.6 billion, most of which goes to states to support their fish and wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation programs. The budget also fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, calls for increased funding for deferred maintenance projects and secures money for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

As reported in the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s daily “Currents” publication, under the president’s leadership, fish stocks have rebounded and his final budget will ensure that more species will be delisted during the Obama Administration than under any other — a desirable outcome for the longevity of recreational fishing.

But all is not golden. The federal budget is really a textbook “approach-avoidance situation” you learn about in college Psychology 101.

Approach: The Army Corp is nearly doubling the amount of funded projects for small-harbor and port dredging this year which they claim will clear a backlog before any cuts are finalized.

Avoidance: There are proposed cuts in funding to the Army Corp’s civil engineering programs. Particularly notable is a cut of $250 million in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

Approach: Increases include $6.7 million for dredging of some of the most silted-in stretches of the Intracoastal Waterway in five states, something that directly benefits recreational boaters.

Avoidance: Great Lakes interests are irked that Obama's $4.1 trillion budget calls for a $50 million cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That program is currently funded with $300 million. It’s the third consecutive year the administration has attempted to chop this funding. This initiative has supported more than 2,900 projects in the eight Great Lakes states to restore fish and wildlife habitat, clean up toxic pollutants, combat invasive species, and reduce runoff from cities and farms.

Approach: Fortunately, in the last two years a bipartisan group was assembled in Congress that pushed for the Great Lakes restoration efforts and rebuffed the president’s proposed cuts. Hopefully, with widespread support from boating interests, that group can be active again.

Avoidance: the budget plan also cuts the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the account cities use for low-interest loans to fix sewage systems and prevent sewage overflows into rivers and streams. Obama’s plan wants $979 million for that program, which is $414 million less than what's currently appropriated. Money from that fund is split among states by formula. To say people in the Great Lakes are unhappy is an understatement.

Meanwhile, the president has just signed into law the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act. Of particular interest to dealers and manufacturers, this legislation defines the model year for recreational boats.

Model-year changes

So it’s now official: the new model year begins June 1 and ends July 31 of each year. Further, there is a provision that would allow a manufacturer to apply for an exception to introduce a new mid-year model with Coast Guard approval. That’s similar to the exemption procedure used now for personal watercraft, says Nicole Vasilaros, vice president of federal and legal affairs in the Washington office of the NMMA. The law is effective now. However, she is working with the Coast Guard to develop the exception language necessary for a new model introduction prior to June 1. For questions, you can contact her at nvasilaros@nmma.org.

The new model year is unpopular with many dealers, particularly those in the North. The issue was ultimately hammered out by representatives from the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and NMMA. Many dealers would prefer following the motor manufactures structure of a new motor is a new motor and has no model year, so it changes when the product changes. But that’s mute now.

Because actively advocating for boating issues in Washington never ends, once again the marine industry will gather May 9-11 in Washington for the America Boating Congress. Attending ABC and participating in Capitol Hill visits with others from your state is the best way to educate your members in Congress on issues that impact your business. Dealers from around the country are urged to attend.

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