May 4, 1999
The National Rifle Association (NRA) adds its endorsement to S. 25, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999. Our principle interest in the legislation is Title III - Wildlife Conservation and Restoration.
Title III is of vital importance to our 2.5 million members who engage in recreational shooting and hunting because it amends the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act commonly referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act or PR. When it was enacted in the 1930`s, PR was an innovative and farsighted response to rapidly declining wildlife populations and their habitats. The highly successful and highly enviable trust fund created by the enactment of PR has provided the states with over $3 billion in its six-decade history. The required state matching share has boosted that figure to over $4 billion. It makes the greatest sense to channel new funds to the states for wildlife conservation purposes through this same trust fund, as Title III specifically directs.
In a Board resolution adopted in 1996, the NRA agreed that in spite of the largess provided by PR and its partner, the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, the states had insufficient funds to meet all of its wildlife management responsibilities, not only for game species but for nongame and threatened and endangered species as well. The NRA, therefore, supports S. 25 because it not only taps into a new source for funding much needed wildlife work, but it provides for a generous level of funding. If predictions are accurate, the dollar amount anticipated from outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas leasing revenue that will be made available by S. 25 to the states for wildlife conservation and restoration is almost double the annual income from PR excise taxes. Such revenue enhancement should fulfill the purposes of S. 25, especially the first purpose which is to extend assistance to the states to address the unmet needs of wildlife species.
The NRA is pleased to be able to take a position in support of a proposal that increases wildlife revenue to the states. This was not the case with respect to the "Teaming with Wildlife" concept which Title III replaces. Although the NRA never took a formal position on "Teaming with Wildlife" because the concept was never introduced in legislative form, we nevertheless expressed serious concerns over the effect it would have on our members. The fact that S. 25 imposes no new excise taxes eliminates many of those concerns.
The "Teaming with Wildlife" concept would have imposed excise taxes on outdoor gear and clothing on the premise that those who enjoy the benefits of sound wildlife management, but who do not now pay for those benefits ought to begin doing so. Unlike excise taxes imposed by PR on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment, "Teaming" taxes would not have fallen upon a discrete class of consumers. Instead, those taxes would have fallen upon a diverse array of consumers including those who would purchase for the outdoor "look," not the outdoor wildlife experience. And among this diverse array of consumers would also be found firearm owners, hunters, and target shooters who would be in the market as well for hiking boots, binoculars, cameras, and other proposed taxable products - the very consumers who for six decades have been paying excise taxes for wildlife conservation.
The "Teaming with Wildlife" concept would have also affected the sportsmen`s expenditures at the state level. Often forgotten in the efforts to gain support for the "Teaming with Wildlife" concept was the source of funding at the state level that would be used to match the "Teaming" funds. Although the intention of "Teaming with Wildlife" was to tap new sources of revenue, with rare exception the states would be depending upon revenue from hunting fees and game tags for the state match. Thus, the sportsmen would continue to pay the lion share for wildlife conservation, defeating the objective of "Teaming" which was to find new sources of funds by taxing beneficiaries of wildlife who do not now contribute.
Title III does allow the state matching share to be reduced from the traditional 25% down to 10% for the first five years. We hope this will provide the incentive for the states to locate sources for matching funds other than existing sportsmen-generated revenue. But, the NRA is concerned that even a 10% funding match is a substantial amount for the states to find, let alone a 25% funding match in the sixth year and beyond. Unless other sources of matching funds are located at the state level, sportsmen-generated revenue could be diverted from matching PR excise tax revenue in order to match OCS revenue. The NRA asks that careful consideration be given to this concern with the thought of including language that would secure the sportsmen`s funds at the state level for matching PR excise tax revenue. What remains after PR is fully matched by the states could then be used as matching money for the OCS revenue.
The NRA is also in support of language in Title III that allows funding to be used for a "diverse array of species" and would oppose having the funding earmarked for "nongame" wildlife. With the infusion of OCS dollars, there would be every expectation that all manner of wildlife will benefit. Indeed, S. 25 specifically states that the funding should be used for "unmet" needs. Even though the legislation provides guidance, it does not dictate. There is no reason to direct professional wildlife managers in how funding should be applied at the state level. The state fish and wildlife agencies are made up of professional wildlife managers who are in the best position to identify wildlife conservation funding priorities. That concept is already built into PR.
When PR was amended in the 1970`s to extend the excise tax to handguns and archery equipment, the recreational shooting community wanted to earmark a percentage for hunter safety training and range construction. Instead, they accepted language that would allow that purpose as a discretionary expenditure on the part of the states. While many in the recreational shooting community do not believe that all the states have lived up to their end of the bargain, that language has stood these forty years. Demands to earmark OCS funds in Title III for nongame purposes will surely cause a clamor for earmarking handgun and archery equipment excise tax receipts.
Section 305 of the bill allows up to two percent of the total OCS revenue deposited in PR to be used by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to cover expenses for the administration and execution of programs authorized and funded under the auspices of Title III. The NRA strongly recommends that the whole structure of administrative funds and the administrative grant program be reviewed by the Committee before any further administrative money is provided. The NRA has raised concerns in several different forums over the use of funds that are excess to the administrative costs of the Service. Several years ago, in an agreement between the Service and the state fish and wildlife agencies, an administrative grant program was created so that excess administrative funds could be pooled to fund projects that benefitted a majority of the states, rather than be fed into the regular state apportionment stream. The concept is a good one and the grant program has produced quality products.
However, the administrative grant program was not created by specific Congressional authority nor by formal rulemaking, hence it has been implemented with only the Service`s and the state`s interests taken into account. Furthermore, the states are not the beneficiary of all of the excess funds. There is a strong belief that the Service has used PR funds to cover the costs of Service needs extraneous to the administration of the Federal Aid programs. This is not the intent, nor the specific reading of PR. The NRA has no objection to pooling administrative funds for a multi-state project, however one needs to be mindful that the PR trust fund was created to support wildlife restoration programs at the state level, not for the benefit of a federal agency. To continue such a practice is a breach of good faith and trust with all those who pay PR excise taxes who are the firearm owners and sportsmen of this country and NRA members.
There are other issues that have been raised over time with respect to the administration of the grant program, even issues raised by the Service. Although the public was invited to comment on a series of proposed options for management of the administrative grant program, the Federal Register notice was not a formal rulemaking. Hence, those who have a vested interest in how their excise tax dollars are being spent - that is, the firearm owners and sportsmen - are not being included in the discussions. With this testimony, the NRA attaches its comments on the Federal Register notice detailing its concerns with the program.
With the exception of the administrative funding issue, the NRA fully supports the language in Title III. It meets the desire of the hunting community to find funds sufficient to address the needs of all wildlife with special focus on nongame and threatened and endangered species. It provides relief to the hunter who has shouldered the responsibility for wildlife conservation and restoration. By amending PR, S. 25 also acknowledges and protects the vital role that the hunter plays in the conservation of our nation`s fish and wildlife resources. The NRA offers its assistance to the Chairman in helping to make the goals and objectives of S. 25 a reality.