Wallop-Breaux Reauthorized. After nearly two years of Congressional action and three years of strategic planning and consensus building by leading angling and boating organizations, the most significant legislation for sportfishing and boating since 1984 was signed into law by President Bush on August 10, 2005.
The centerpiece of the legislation is the successful capture of the federal fuel tax on motorboats and small engines which will now be dedicated to sportfish restoration, angler and boating access and boating safety. The Act will consolidate the receipts of the new Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund and distribute them according to a simpler and more equitable formula supported by the American Sportfishing Association and a coalition of 33 other fishing and boating organizations.
Formerly known as the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund, this reauthorization will recover approximately $110 million per year of federal fuel taxes currently being paid by anglers and boaters which was being diverted to the general treasury. The capture of the fuel tax will significantly boost funding revenues for the Fund to approximately $570 million per year for important angling and boating programs such as fisheries monitoring; habitat conservation and restoration; fishing and boating access facilities such as docks, piers, and boat ramps; and education and safety programs for anglers and boaters. State wildlife and natural resources agencies, which receive the funds, will see an annual increase anywhere from $1.1 to $5.5 million dollars for conservation management. Funds are appropriated to the states for sportfish restoration and boating programs based on license sales and water area.
The Fund amounts to about $570 million per year which is ultimately parceled to state fish and wildlife agencies as a primary source of their overall funding. For more than 10 years, only a portion of anglers and boaters’ federal motor boat fuel taxes were directed to the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund, a user-pay/user and resource benefit fund that provides revenues for fishing and boating programs across the nation. The reauthorization captures the entire amount of the fuel tax. In addition, the Congressional action also distributes approximately $87 million of previously unappropriated revenues to various accounts within the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund.
Previously, of the 18.3 cents in federal fuel taxes, only 13.5 cents of the tax on every gallon of gasoline used in recreational boating and small engines was transferred from the Highway Transportation Fund to the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund. Under this arrangement, the 4.8 cent balance on every gallon was being directed to the General Treasury. This meant that anglers and boaters paying this tax were not receiving the full benefit of their tax payment investment.
The Aquatic Resources Trust Fund (ARTF) encompasses two of the nation’s most effective “user-pay, user-benefit” programs in the Sport Fish Restoration Program and the Recreational Boating Safety Program. The Sport Fish Restoration Program was established in 1950 by the Dingell-Johnson Act, using a 10 percent excise tax on some fishing equipment to fund various projects designed to enhance sportfishing in all 50 states.
The Recreational Boating Safety Program was established in 1971 and amended in 1980 to draw its funding from taxes on motorboat fuels. These programs were combined in 1984 under the ARTF, also known as the Wallop-Breaux Trust Fund. The Wallop-Breaux amendment to the Sport Fish Restoration Act expanded the excise tax to nearly all sportfishing products and captured all of the federal motorboat fuel taxes that were paid by boaters and anglers. This combination, along with the Coastal Wetlands Restoration Act of 1990, has substantially increased the funds collected by the federal government to be returned to the states for fishing and boating-related projects.
Since its creation, the Sport Fish Restoration Act has been refined and expanded by Congress. It is unquestionably the most valuable federal legislation for anglers and fishery resources, delivering (at the time of reauthorization) approximately $460 million each year to state fishing and boating programs.
In 2005, the opportunity existed to maintain this important funding source as Congress reauthorized the transfer of motorboat and small engine fuel taxes to the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund.
The American League of Anglers and Boaters (ALAB), an advisory group that met in anticipation of the Wallop-Breaux reauthorization, compiled a set of consensus recommendations regarding the act. The main points of the ALAB consensus, which were adopted into law, were:
Sport Fish Restoration
Boating Safety Grants
Coastal Wetlands Act
Clean Vessel Act
“We are truly grateful for Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) and Senator Herb Kohl’s (D-WI) efforts in sponsoring this legislation and the sportfishing community thanks them for moving it through the Senate reauthorization process,” said Gordon Robertson, vice president of ASA. “On the House side, we owe Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Clay Shaw (R-FL) our thanks for their leadership in this effort.” Robertson added, “We also want to thank the six committees of jurisdiction and their staff for standing with us during this two-year reauthorization process. Passage of this legislation is testament to the ability of the sportfishing and boating community to work together to strengthen the user-pay/user-benefit concept of the U.S. conservation model.” In addition, Robertson said, “It has truly been a coordinated bipartisan, bicameral effort that is a testament to this nation’s love of sportfishing and boating.”
ASA thanks it members, partners and supporters who wrote or called their Members of Congress to let them know how important this issue was to the angling and boating community. The additional $110 million will be a great benefit to recreational fishing as this money becomes available to the states for angling and boating programs.