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Sportfish fund included in House infrastructure bill

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The House approved a short-term fix to the nearly depleted highway trust fund on Tuesday in a 367-55 vote and the measure will move to the Senate with barely two weeks before the Transportation Department could be forced to cut funding for highway projects around the country.

The bill includes a straight reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund with no policy changes at this time, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

The action now moves to the Senate as it decides how it will handle the need for an extension.

“NMMA is supportive is supportive of the House's action with respect to the SFRBTF and looks forward to continuing efforts to extend the fund while Congress works on a long-term highway transportation bill,”legislative counsel Jeff Gabriel said in an NMMA brief.

Democrats, led by President Obama, denounced Congress’ failure to pass a multiyear transportation bill that likely would have needed tax increases to fund the nation’s infrastructure needs, according to the New York Times. Conservatives —and some liberal Democrats —called the funding mechanisms for the $11 billion House bill gimmicks that mask the true cost.

The fund, a $600 million-a-year fund that helps fund fishing around the country, was one of the main topics during this year’s American Boating Congress, held in May on Capitol Hill.

David Kennedy, of BoatUS, told ABC attendees that the money not only contributes to boater safety programs and education, but also directly helps improve docks and other boating infrastructure.

“The single biggest revenue source for this fund is the gas tax attributed to gasoline that goes into engines,”Kennedy said, adding that it accounts for more than half of the fund. “That is the critical thing about this and why we often talk about it in the cycle of success.”

The cycle of success helps legislators understand that more programs lead to more people buying boats, which leads to a need for fuel and equipment, and it all cycles back to more money in the fund, Kennedy said.

“I think it’s always a good idea to highlight this virtuous cycle to members of Congress,”Kennedy said.

Kennedy and Gabriel were hopeful that the fund will be reauthorized, but they emphasized that it is important to highlight the fund in talking to legislators.

“There are members of the Tea Party who don’t look keenly on any taxes and think they all should be generated back to the state, and that’s where the opposition would be from,”Gabriel said in response to a question asking who opposed the measure. “But if you emphasize that this is user-paid and we understand the benefits,”they are likely to be on board.

Typically state fisheries and boating industries receive anywhere from 15 percent to almost 50 percent of their operating budgets from the bill, Gabriel said during an ABC webinar that previewed the issues. “This is critical to the operation of fisheries and boating access.”

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