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Boating trust fund could get a boost

A proposed bill would give the Wallop/Breaux Trust Fund an additional $110 million a year

A proposed bill would give the Wallop/Breaux Trust Fund an additional $110 million a year

Boating interest groups and marine industry leaders are urging congressional approval of a new bill that would restructure and boost funding of the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund, which distributes money for boating and fishing programs.

U.S. Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) on Feb. 17 introduced the bill to reauthorize the fund, commonly known as the Wallop/Breaux Trust Fund. Established in 1984, the trust is funded with money collected through excise taxes on powerboat and small-engine fuels and sportfishing equipment, and provides $500 million to such programs as outreach, boating safety, conservation and fish restocking.

The fund now comprises two separate accounts — one for fishing, one for boating — but the bill would consolidate receipts and distribute them differently, with a significant increase for boating safety.

Lott and Kohl, co-chairs of the Senate Boating Caucus, also introduced a bill that would give the fund an additional $110 million a year. The fund currently receives 13.5 cents of the 18.3 cents per gallon collected from the fuel tax. The additional 4.8 cents is diverted to a general fund. The proposal would provide the boating and fishing program the entire amount collected.

“That’s just a wonderful windfall,” says Monita Fontaine, vice president of legislative affairs for the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association. Fontaine points out that the additional funds translate into $1 billion over the next decade.

The changes are based on an agreement reached last year by the American League of Anglers and Boaters, a coalition of sportfishing and boating safety advocates. The group, which has helped grow the fund from a $30 million program to its present level, sought to distribute the funds more equitably between programs when the current legislation expired at the end of 2003. The group developed a formula in which various programs receive a certain percentage.

“It cleans up the way the money flows,” says Fontaine.

Congress last year pondered a similar reauthorization bill proposed by congressman John Breaux of Louisiana, who has since retired. But because the bill was tied up in a controversial transportation bill, lawmakers simply extended the funding as is, rather than make the changes recommended by ALAB.

Michael Sciulla, BoatU.S. vice-president of government affairs, says it is important for the fund to be reauthorized, but he is skeptical about the fund receiving the extra nickel, considering the high cost of the war in Iraq and the mounting federal deficit.

“The overall budget climate is different than it was 12 months ago,” says Sciulla. “They’re going to be looking at every penny.”

A similar measure already is making its way through the House. The House Ways and Means Committee approved the recapture of the additional 4.8 cents, according to Fontaine.