Money for Boating Faces Choppy Waters

Congress must renew the all-encompassing Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund.
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The Covid-19 pandemic is already having a serious negative financial impact as all levels of government. It doesn’t take a Wharton business degree to forecast there will be negative impacts on boating where public funds are involved.

We’ve never seen revenues plummet like this before. State and local governments are forced to find ways to meet required balanced budgets in the face of losing hundreds of millions in sales and income tax revenues.

Every special interest will be lobbying for funding, including us. At the state level it seems certain we’ll see programs we favor failing to get funded for some time, such as the dredging and maintenance of marinas and public launching ramps as well as boating and fishing education, and more;

On the federal level, borrowing will set new records. But not everyone will get what they want unless they’re prepared to fight for it. Enter our Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, perhaps the single most productive program for our interests ever developed.

This Trust Fund will expire at the end of this year. That’s why boating is fully engaged in pushing Congress to renew this key program. Working for us is the fact that the Trust Fund is a voluntary user-pay-user-benefit system, collecting revenue from taxes on boat fuel and voluntary excise taxes on fishing equipment and related recreational boating products.

So, one would assume it should be no problem to see renewal. No so fast: We’re talking about Congressional action here in a time of unprecedented acrimony and partisanship.

Still, the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Washington team is taking the lead on this for our industry with much success. So far, it’s moving in the right direction. Both chambers of Congress have initially acted to reauthorize the Trust Fund.

In the House, legislation that specifically reauthorizes the Trust Fund’s renewal — the Sport Fish Restoration and Recreational Boating Safety Act of 2019 — is included in a bigger infrastructure bill that has gained approval. Recognition for this progress should go to: Representatives Joe Cunningham (D-SC) and Garett Graves (R-LA) with additional support coming from Austin Scott (R-GA), Mark Veasey (D-TX), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Rob Wittman (R-VA), and Greg Murphy (R-NC).

Following the House vote, NMMA reports Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced companion Trust Fund reauthorization legislation; they feel there is bipartisan support in the Senate for the measure, hopefully getting it on President Trump’s desk by the end of the year.

Trust Fund Facts

The Trust Fund is a comprehensive, $650 million program that annually contributes to better access to waterways, boating safety, fishing education programs, habitat restoration, fish stocking and much more — all at no cost to the taxpayers! That alone should make passage a lay-up but, again, we’re talking about Congress here.

There are many great programs you’ve probably heard of but haven’t recognized that the money comes from the Trust Fund. The recent Clean Vessels Act program received $32.8 million in new grants (drawing an additional non-federal match of $21.9 million) for states to build and maintain such facilities as pump-outs that help keep our waterways clean.

Another popular benefit is the Boating Infrastructure Program, aka the BIG-P. It comes out of the Trust Fund, too. It provides funding to construct, renovate and maintain transient docks.

This year it’s providing $13.6 million to 20 states for dock construction, and when that is matched with an additional $15.1 million from the states, the positive impact for boating is undeniable.

Since its inception in 2000, the BIG-P has awarded $228 million to projects for transient boats, funding the construction of more than 6,000 berths and other amenities benefiting boaters across most states and sub-grantees often include private marinas.

The $12 million per year that funds the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, a program that’s consistently chalks up successes driving increase participation in boating and fishing, also comes from the Trust Fund. Meanwhile, a just-announced grant to the BoatUS Foundation from the Coast Guard to develop a means for boaters to dispose of millions of expired flares comes from the Trust Fund – and the list goes on!

“The Clean Vessel Act, the Boating Infrastructure Grants, and so much more are wonderful examples of how boaters support both the environment and the economy,” said BoatUS Vice President of Government Affairs Chris Edmonston. “The funds going into these programs come from boaters, so it’s great to see the money being returned to help improve infrastructure and access for recreational boating, and much more.”

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