With the expected budget battles just ahead, Larry Innis, MRAA’s lobbyist in Washington, predicts: “This re-authorization will be the most difficult one in memory!” His reference: the upcoming reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Safety Trust Fund in which hundreds of millions of boating and fishing dollars will be at stake.
Just what is the SFRBSTF? It is one of the most successful user-pays/user-benefits programs in the world. It began in 1950 when a Sport Fish Restoration Program (also known as Dingell-Johnson after its sponsors) passed Congress. It captured excise taxes paid on recreational fishing equipment and redirected the funds to state agencies that had the responsibility for managing freshwater and near-shore saltwater fisheries but had few resources to manage and expand these fisheries. For the next 30-plus years, the program was a huge success. But it was destined to get even better.
The successful model for funding fishing did not go unnoticed by the boating industry. For more than a decade, our industry tried to develop a similar dedicated funding source to enhance boating access and safety. We didn’t have much success . . . that is, until we teamed up with the sport fishing manufacturers. The result was a 200 percent expansion in 1984 of the SFRBSTF. Called the Wallop-Breaux expansion (after its Congressional sponsors,) it captured the tax that recreational boaters were paying on their gasoline purchases and channeled them into boating access, boater-safety and fishing programs. Just in the last four years alone (2006-09) the SFRBSTF has seen $669,402,585 flow into the program.
Where does it go? The funds are distributed according to allocations established in the 2005 amendments as follows: Sport Fish Restoration Grants to States – 57 percent; Coastal Wetlands – 18.5 percent; Coast Guard Recreational Boating Safety Program – 18.5 percent;
National Fishing and Boating Outreach Program – 2 percent; Clean Vessel Grants (boat pump out facilities) – 2 percent; Boating Infrastructure Grants (facilities for boats 26’ up) – 2 percent; Multistate Conservation Grants – fixed $3 million; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Administration (Flat Fee adjusted annually for Consumer Price Index).
Notably, the biggest portion of the SFRBSTF goes to states for fisheries-enhancement programs using a formula that takes into account each state’s size (land area) and number of fishing licenses. That portion is good for boating in several ways, such as mandating at least 15 percent must be spent on boater access and 10 percent on education that expands fishing participation.
According to Innis, the Highway Trust Fund (SAFETEA-LU) Bill has long been the vehicle for reauthorizing the SFRBSTF. However, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, says he intends to reduce overall spending from the Highway Trust Fund from $45 billion to $32 billion. Mark up of the Highway Bill in his committee is set for May.
“Our concern centers on the prospect that there will be considerable pressure to also reduce SFRBSTF funding and even raid the fund balance for highway projects,” warns Innis.
More information and a call for dealers to become engaged in this reauthorization battle could be expected soon, in spite of some current rumors on the Hill indicating approval of the Highway Bill may be pushed back to next year due to the great aversion to approving any ear marks.