Statement on HB 2122 to fund wildlife and state public lands

Statement on HB 2122 to fund wildlife and state public lands

ConservationNWAdmin / Feb 28, 2019 / Legislation, Recreation

We support this concept of a small sales tax on high-end outdoor equipment while respecting that further discussion is needed and revisions are appropriate.

Late last week, a bipartisan group of state leaders introduced House Bill 2122, which would enact a two-tenths of one percent sales tax on recreational gear and apparel sales more than $200, with exemptions for certain equipment categories as well as for licensed hunters and anglers, to provide funding to the state wildlife account.

While details still need to be worked out, this new tax of .2 percent (or .002 when used in an equation) equates to $1 directed specifically to state conservation efforts in a $500 transaction, or $0.40 for the minimum $200 transaction. Given that this proposal would add a very small tax only to recreational equipment sales exceeding $200, it does not present a financial barrier to people getting outdoors.

WDFW wildlife areas, like the Quilomene just outside Ellensburg shown here, offer many incredible outdoor recreation opportunities on state lands across Washington. As federal public lands get increasingly crowded, recreational use of these areas is expected to continue to grow.

As an organization deeply invested in collaboration with the outdoor recreation industry and organizations, agencies, environmental groups, and hunters and anglers on behalf of wildlands and wildlife, Conservation Northwest supports this concept of a small sales tax on high-end outdoor equipment while respecting that further discussion is needed and revisions are appropriate through amendments and the budget process.

“Nobody loves and cares for nature more than the people of Washington,” said Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Conservation Northwest and a member of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group. “This is a way we can give back to nature, and support the Department of Fish and Wildlife that is charged with making sure our heritage is healthy enough to be enjoyed by those who will come after us.”

“Our state’s population is growing rapidly, putting more and more pressure on our limited public lands and wild areas,” said Friedman. “Whether it’s hiking, mountain biking, birdwatching or fishing, outdoor recreation has a big impact on fish and wildlife, and recreationists should want to help offset their impact. What’s more, state agencies including WDFW provide many incredible outdoor recreation opportunities on state lands across Washington.”

As an avid outdoorsman and passionate hiker and trail runner, I value Washington’s abundant public lands” said award-winning guidebook author Craig Romano. “Unfortunately our state lands and wildlife programs have chronically been underfunded. We can help address this by applying a small tax on high-end outdoor gear and apparel. As written it would amount to a mere $0.40 on a $200 purchase and that revenue would directly benefit the conservation of our state lands and wildlife.”

“We have an obligation to give back to the lands that give us so much pleasure, and this bill allows us to do so without hardship,” Romano said. “I can support this measure and I hope you can too.”

“Sportsmen and women have been carrying their share of the conservation funding load for decades, buying not only hunting and fishing licenses but also paying an excise tax of at least ten percent on purchases of firearms, ammunition, fishing gear and boat fuel,” said Friedman. “It’s fair that a wider share of Washingtonians who love our public lands and wildlife contribute directly to conservation through a modest sales tax on high-end outdoor equipment and apparel.”

Under the federal Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 and Dingell-Johnson Act of 1950, excise taxes of 10 to 11 percent are levied on purchases of hunting, shooting and fishing equipment as well as motor boat fuel. These funds go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which then grants them to state fish and wildlife agencies for public land acquisition and conservation efforts, including for salmon and game species but also for iconic and endangered wildlife such as orcas and fishers.

In Washington, grant funds from federal excise taxes on hunting, shooting and fishing equipment and boat fuel contribute approximately 27 percent of WDFW’s budget, with funds from fishing and hunting license sales making up another 27 percent. State General Fund Appropriations (21 percent) and other local funds currently make up the remainder of the Department’s budget.

Diverse groups have been working with WDFW and state lawmakers to better fund the agency, including through increased General Fund appropriations and modest hunting and fishing license fee increases (proposed via HB 1708 / SB 5692). A small sales tax on high-end outdoor equipment and apparel would complement efforts toward more sustainable funding for Washington’s fish and wildlife heritage.

While we will be working with our outdoor industry and recreation colleagues and others to refine this bill and incorporate diverse values and functional needs (including smooth point of sale operations), at this time, Conservation Northwest supports amending HB 2122 to exempt fishing gear from this tax and remove exemptions on mountain bikes intended for adults. Including fishing gear such as rods and reels in the categories of exempt equipment is important to avoid double taxation given federal statute.

The proposed bill language defines “recreational activities” as including, but not limited to, hiking, camping, and watersports. “Recreational activities” does not include equipment used primarily in organized sports such as football and baseball and does not include indoor recreational activities such as squash and bowling.

Learn more about our work with other stakeholders to secure more sustainable funding for Washington’s wildlife heritage in this letter
Taxes on hunting, fishing and boating gear support public land acquisition and local conservation efforts, including for salmon and game species but also for iconic and endangered wildlife such as fishers. Photo: John Jacobson, WDFW.