Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Government

Sometimes things just work too well.
Seventy-five years ago Nevada Senator Key Pittman and Virginia Congressman Absalom Willis Robertson sponsored a bill to help rehabilitate and rejuvenate wildlife.  The bill, officially titled the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, was designed to be self funding and used only for the betterment of wildlife and natural resources.
Looking at other bills used in both state and federal legislation that provide funding for various projects, a case can be made that most are made with good intentions but fail at least partially in achieving their intent.  For instance Social Security funds have been raided throughout the years to fund other projects.  The food stamp program was designed to help the less fortunate through temporary times of hardship, yet lack of checks and balances have allowed those who wish to massage the system receive benefits when they should not.  North Carolina pushed a bill to allow the lottery to come into the state in order to assist in funding our education system.  Sounded good from the seats, but in hindsight we now see that those funds can be stalled or raided depending on the circumstances of the time.  Even if the funds go where needed, it enables cuts to be made that normally would not have been based on the “well, the school system is getting the lottery money” response.
Fortunately, the Pittman-Robertson Act, as it is most commonly called, has withstood the challenges over the years and remained mostly intact.  Since 1937, the Act has been amended including several times in the 1970’s and as recent as 2000.  These amendments have mostly been positive in regards to the original intent of the legislation.
Breaking down the Pittman-Robertson Act, you can see how this has bill has provided the results it has to the hunting heritage and conservation of our natural resources.  First, the funds are supplied by those people who use the outdoors and enjoy the resources.  An excise tax was established on firearms and ammunition sales.  This is a tax paid by the manufacturers prior to the sale.  As archery became recognized as a feasible and effective means of hunting in the 1970’s, archery equipment manufacturers saw the benefits of the Act and led by industry pioneers such as Bear, Pearson, and Easton, these same manufacturers requested to be included in the P-R Act.  Handguns, handgun ammunition, and handgun accessories sales also were amended into the Act.
The funds, once collected, were then distributed to the states based on the numbers of licensed hunters.  This kept the funds from going to states based on population and rather going to state governments based on, again, the participation.  There was one caveat; half the funds received by the state would be required to go toward hunter education and safety classes or shooting and target ranges.
There was also a small ‘matching’ funds clause with yet another check and balance.  The state would be required to foot the bill for any of the projects and then could apply for reimbursement for up to 75% of the total cost through the P-R Act.  If a state did not use the funds, they did not just drop into the general funds of the federal government.  Instead, if any funds were unused for 2 years, they would be allocated to the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
Through the Pittman-Robertson Act, species such as whitetail deer, wood ducks, wild turkeys, and black bears made a swift comeback from near extinction.  Elk, mountain lions, and even the symbolic American bison were awarded much needed habitat in order to survive.  It is estimated that hunters, through their purchases of firearms, archery equipment, ammunition, and associated accessories as well as license purchases has resulted in over 2.5 billion dollars used in these manners since the inception of the Pittman-Robertson Act.
Another bill was later submitted and enacted to support another popular outdoor activity called the Dingell-Johnson Act.  This act’s funds can be determined by its official name; Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act.  This was set up just like the Pittman-Robertson Act.
But, as I stated at the beginning, sometimes things just work too well.
I am not sure I can explain what a ‘fiscal cliff’ is, but I am certain it is not something I would like to jump off of.  Fiscal cliff has unfortunately become the buzz word of the day.  We all realize the government must do one of three things in order to right the ship we have set sail; raise government income, decrease government spending, or as most agree, a combination of both.
What does the fiscal cliff have to do with a 75 year old legislation that has seemed to work as intended?  Automatic budget cuts will go into effect without an agreement in Congress on ways to reduce the deficit.  The Budget Control Act of 2011 set the stage, and the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 brings the actors.  Basically, it says that these two very important acts may have the funds raided if a budget agreement is not reached.  As much as $65 million between the P-R Act and the D-J Act may be pulled in fact.  Other areas where funds may be taken include the aforementioned Migratory Bird Conservation account.  This could be detrimental for what was, and are, self-funded Acts.  This is equivalent to a volunteer fire department having a chicken dinner sale in order to raise funds and then having the government take the funds in order to pay the sheriff’s department.
If you have concerns for the uses of these funds that do not contribute to the national deficit at all, you may contact your representatives and ask what their plans are for the sequestration and request them to leave two of the only bills to have ever passed that work as intended alone.

1 comment:

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