Sequester could hold back funds for fish, wildlife

March 21, 2013 at 08:06 PM
The federal government’s efforts to control deficit spending through sequestration eventually could affect how much money is returned to states for wildlife and fish restoration programs.

States receive matching funds from the federal government through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts that divide an 11 percent excise taxes on sporting goods between state fish and wildlife agencies.

Illinois’ share typically is about $16 million dollars.

The sequestration — known as the Budget Control Act — requires a 7.6 percent cut to “other non-exempt, non-defense mandatory programs,” including wildlife funds even though they are not raised through the federal income tax.

The goal of the Budget Control Act is to reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.2 trillion in 10 years.

According to the Association of State Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the total amount withheld from the states would be $74 million in fiscal year 2013.

If the entire 7.6 percent is held back, Illinois could find about $1.2 million off limits.

“Since this is a trust fund, the excise tax monies will not be diverted to other uses, but will not be allocated to the states at the (same rate as in past years),” said Dan Stephenson, assistant chief of fisheries for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The money won’t be used to pay down the federal deficit, but will reside in a trust fund in Washington — making it unavailable to the states, at least not until the sequester ends.

“They can’t take it out of the trust funds, but they aren’t going to appropriate it,” said Mike Conlin, retired DNR fisheries chief. “It looks like they are holding back spending but they really aren’t. I think it’s partly for show or maybe all for show.”

Conlin said federal funds normally are reimbursed to the states, such as when a research project is completed.

He said DNR might not feel the effects until the next fiscal year.
“But as time passes, it will impact us more and more,” Stephenson said. “The sooner they fix this in Washington, the less the impact.”
Using DNR fisheries as an example, $9.7 million was received from fishing license sales in 2011 and $7.1 million came in as federal matching funds, Stephenson said.

If the entire 7.6 percent sequestration is held back, about $550,000 of that $7.1 million will be unavailable to DNR fisheries.

Stephenson said fisheries was expecting an additional $1.5 million from the new “Sustainability Bill” that adds a $2 surcharge on license plate renewals to help replace aging equipment and hire additional personnel.

“But we’re afraid that money will be in place of (funds held back), not in addition to.”

DNR spokesman Chris McCloud said the agency is planning for any number of budget scenarios “so we are protected as possible.

“If any money is withheld, that would affect the agency,” he said. “All we can do is try to keep an eye on it.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528. Follow him at twitter.com/ChrisYoungPSO.