Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Money Talks Feds Return Millions in Sequestered Funding Previously Denied to State Wildlife Agencies

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Money Talks Feds Return Millions in Sequestered Funding Previously Denied to State Wildlife Agencies

Article excerpt

Remember the sequester? A political tool created to force a national budget deal, it was intentionally designed to make life harder for all Americans, affecting everything from the purchase of spare military parts to recreation funding. If you have hunted, fished, boated or done just about anything outdoors in the past three years, the sequester has to some degree impacted your experience.

This year, more than $80 million in withheld wildlife restoration funding is being released to the states.

The national budget sequester was Washington's big idea to get President Obama and Congress to settle on a 2012 budget. If they couldn't agree, they would mutually accept across-the-board spending cuts on virtually all domestic governmental services.

Surely, said the TV talking heads, they would rather find a bipartisan way to deal with the national debt, which was then approaching $17 trillion - with a T, than accept self-imposed funding cuts to everything from national park budgets to defense spending, from health care and education to research and development. Surely the people wouldn't accept that.

Three years later in post-sequester America, funding continues to be withheld, the national debt has grown to $18.4 trillion, and the people accept intransigent government like it's the new normal.

One sequester target in particular grates on John Arway, executive director of the state Fish and Boat Commission. Not because it affects his agency, he said, but because "it's so unfair."

"The sequester was about balancing the budget, and if one side had to accept cuts the other side had to, too," he said. "It makes absolutely no sense to sequester [wildlife agency] money, because that money can't be used to balance the budget. It's a bureaucratic exercise that has no meaning."

For three years, Arway has been a vocal opponent of funding cuts to the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it provides funding that may be used only for fish and wildlife management.

The general public benefits from the management of wildlife but doesn't contribute to the program. The Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 levies a federal excise tax on the sale of guns and ammunition. The 1950 Dingell-Johnson Act taxes fishing gear and boating fuel.

"It didn't come out of general taxes. It's not the federal government's money," Arway said. "It's our money, sportsmen's money, taken from our purchase of sporting goods and redistributed to the wildlife agencies of every state to the benefit of the sportsmen and women who funded it, and by law that money can not be used for any other purpose. No way it should be withheld in a Washington plan because they can't agree on passing a budget."

Arway said the federal funding is worth more than its dollar value. …

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