Wallop-Breaux advances

Field Editor

Washington, D.C. Minnesota could be eligible for an additional
$4.2 million in federal funds for fisheries and boating under the
reauthorization of the Wallop-Breaux Program passed by the Senate
last week. Part of a much larger transportation bill known as Safe,
Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act
(SAFETEA) of 2004, the new Wallop-Breaux monies would come from a
redirection of small engine fuel tax revenues that is projected to
generate an additional $110 million annually for the program.

“This could be very significant for state fisheries programs,”
says Janet Tennyson, communications director for the American
Sportfishing Association (ASA).

Wallop-Breaux is primarily funded by excise taxes on fishing
tackle and a distribution of boat fuel taxes, generating about $450
million annually. The money is allocated to the states as a
reimbursement for fish management and boating expenditures.
Minnesota receives about $10 million annually from Wallop-Breaux,
accounting for more than 25 percent of the annual Fisheries
receipts to the Game and Fish Fund. Wallop-Breaux was passed by
Congress in 1984 as an expansion of the Dingell-Johnson program
that began in 1950.

The program must be reauthorized every six years, and the last
reauthorization occurred in 1998. Gordon Robertson, vice president
of the ASA, says angling and boating advocates have formed a
coalition comprised of 34 organizations working to pass
Wallop-Breaux. Recovering fuel tax revenues, a portion of which
Congress diverted to other purposes several years ago, is a
priority on their agenda.

While Congress is under pressure to pass the transportation
bill, shepherding Wallop-Breaux through the legislative process is
no small task. Tennyson says the reauthorization passed through
three committees prior to reaching the Senate floor. It has not yet
reached a vote in the House.

“The Senate passage was a significant hurdle,” Tennyson
says.

Other changes in the bill include measures that were agreed upon
by the coalition, such as equitable distribution of new revenues
among fishing and boating programs, and changes to boating safety
funding that are intended to make better use of the money. About
$60 million will be directed to the Water Works Wonders program, a
national publicity campaign that promotes fishing and boating in
the mainstream media.

Robertson says the ASA did not take a position on changes
brought forward by fishing tackle manufacturers, including the
elimination of the 3 percent excise tax on fish flashers using LED
technology (more common LCD fish finders have never paid a tax), a
tax reduction for aerated portable bait buckets (also used by
aquariasts, researchers, and fish growers), and a cap of $10 on the
excise tax for U.S.-manufactured fishing rods (on top-shelf
American-made fly rods, taxes reach $60, making it difficult to
compete with foreign products).

If the coalition is successful in redirecting the small engine
fuel taxes, Wallop-Breaux will grow from $450 million to $560
million annually. Minnesota’s share of the new monies will be a
tremendous boon for the state’s fishing and boating programs, says
DNR Fisheries chief Ron Payer. Fish management gets the lion’s
share of the federal funding, with 15 percent dedicated to water
access, and lesser amounts for enforcement and other programs.
Payer says it is difficult to measure the direct effect of
Wallop-Breaux monies, because they are deposited into the Game and
Fish Fund. The state Legislature makes appropriations from the Game
and Fish Fund.

“Between their license fees and the excise taxes on fishing
tackle collected at the manufacturer’s level through Wallop-Breaux,
anglers are carrying the financial burden for fish management,”
Payer says.

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