The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 4, 2012

Fiscal cliff gridlock threatens West Virginia outdoor funds

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— CHARLESTON — While politicians posture on Capitol Hill, the folks managing West Virginia’s outdoor pursuits wonder if thousands of dollars are about to sacrificed in the feud over avoiding the fiscal cliff.

Unless the Democrats and Republicans can come to terms, state Wildlife Chief Curtis Taylor says the state is bracing for a first-year setback of between $700,000 and $800,000.

“It affects every program we’ve got,” Taylor said Monday.

“Warm water, cold water, game management. Hunter safety. Everything. You’re talking about sequestering federal dollars we get from Pittman-Robertson, Dingell-Johnson, Wallop-Breaux. Those are trust funds. The government can’t spend it. But what they’re talking about is not an allocation to the states, which is crazy, because it doesn’t help the deficit one bit. They can’t take it.”

Taylor says political leaders are eyeing a decade-long sequestration of such funds, and that could mean a sizable amount of money that would be forfeited in West Virginia.

“What we’ve been arguing with the Office of Budget and Management is that this is not tax money,” Taylor said.

“This is a dedicated revenue stream for the state. The federal government does not spend this money. They just allocate it. We’re the ones that spend it. It makes up about 40 percent of our annual operating budgets. It’s a tremendous blow to us.”

Even more critical to consider, Taylor said, is the fact that the money that could be held in limbo has already been acquired by hunters and anglers in the purchase of outdoor gear.

“Pittman-Robertson has been around since 1937,” Taylor noted, referring to the federal act that rewards states with a percentage of excise tax paid on firearms and ammunition, and subsequently amended to include revenue from archery equipment as well.

“This is the 75th anniversary of Pittman-Robertson. For them to try to do that this year is a slap in the face.”

Dingell-Johnson was enacted to set aside tax revenues paid on fishing rods, lures and the like, while Wallop-Breaux taps into the motorboat fuel tax to assist states.

The amount West Virginia is in line to receive under normal circumstances varies from year to year, depending on the total sales, Taylor said.

“We’re hearing that Pittman-Robertson is way up because people were afraid of the election, so they went out and bought a bunch of ammo and guns,” Taylor said, recalling the jump in sales out of a perception that President Barack Obama’s re-election would signal an assault on private gun ownership.

“The receipts are way up. And any time the Brady Bill folks rattle chains, people are scared to death.”

If the federal dollars are sequestered, there is no way for West Virginia to be in position to make up the shortfall, the DNR official said.

“You can’t make this up with license fees,” Taylor said. “We wouldn’t even think about it.

“And then the bigger question is, when they do release it, they say, ‘West Virginia, you’ve got $5 million.’ But we can’t match it. We have to match 25 percent of that with license money. We won’t have that kind of revenue.”

Taylor said the office of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a veteran hunter and lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, is “deeply involved” in the fiscal crisis and how it threatens West Virginia’s outdoor programs.

“Everybody is looking for a fix,” Taylor said. “This is all tied to the fiscal cliff you’re hearing about.”

A number of groups, including the West Virginia Wildlife Federation, the Bowhunters Association, and Wild Turkey Federation have been exhorting its rank-and-file to get involved with action alerts to contact their members of Congress and Obama.

“He (Obama) could end this tomorrow, if he wanted,” Taylor said.

Taylor said one member of Congress — not from West Virginia — called on all outdoor enthusiasts to “raise hell.”

“He’s right,” the wildlife chief said.

“If we’re not vocal on this, we might as well just go away. We’ll lose all relevancy with politicians. This is the sportsmen’s money. Pure and simple.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com