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Bill proposes Sales Tax Dedication to Conservation Fund
After much delay, Senate Bill 18 that proposes to dedicate one-twentieth of a penny of state sales tax to the Conservation Fund (Fund), is scheduled for hearing in the House Committee on Appropriations. The bill cleared the Senate on a 33-2 vote on May 1st with 29 coauthors. But without an indication of the Governor's support, the measure has remained in limbo. It is still unclear whether or not Governor Jindal supports the dedication, but that may come to light during the upcoming committee discussion.
The Conservation Fund is the primary operating fund of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries that receives revenues from hunting, fishing and commercial license fees and other sources. If enacted, the proposed legislation will supplement the Fund with approximately $40 million a year in state sales tax revenue. This is not a new tax or tax increase, but a dedication of existing sales tax revenue.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries has operated primarily on self-generated funds, federal funds and mineral revenue, with essentially no allocation from the state general fund. Future shortfalls in revenues from license sales, mineral royalties and other sources make it vital that the Conservation Fund receive general tax-supported dollars. The fish and wildlife conservation agencies of other states like Missouri and Arkansas receive a significant percentage of support from state sales tax revenue, and as hunting and fishing license dollars shrink in relation to expanding responsibilities, state conservation agencies throughout the country are looking to similar general revenue support to supplement traditional sources.
The Louisiana Wildlife Federation has advocated allocating a modest percentage of existing state sales tax to the Conservation Fund for many years. Previous attempts were unsuccessful, but with the state's current fiscal outlook, it is the right time to ask again.
LDWF supports the state's commercial and recreational fishing and hunting industries which generate an economic impact of $7 billion annually. Those fish and game industries support over 77,000 jobs and the state receives $284 million in sales and income tax revenues generated by those industries.*
Current revenue sources supporting the Conservation Fund include: sales of recreational hunting and fishing licenses, and commercial licenses, royalties from mineral production on certain state-owned (including department-owned) lands and from extraction of sand and fill material from state water bottoms, and assorted fees collected for boat registrations, survey fees, Wildlife Division program fees (such as DMAP), seismic fees and sales of merchandise including The Louisiana Conservationist Magazine, posters and other printed materials. Declines in recent years in the sales of hunting and fishing licenses, due primarily to senior outdoorsmen and women aging out of the ranks of licensed hunters and fishermen, has caused a reduction in this source of revenue supporting the Conservation Fund and LDWF?s mission.
Corresponding increases in departmental expenses, primarily in staff salaries and benefits, but additionally in equipment and fuel costs, expanded mission including emergency preparedness and search and rescue, and from new laws and regulations pertaining to regulating snakes, primates, big cats and other functions not related to the traditional work of the agency, have placed increasing demands on the personnel and financial resources of the agency.
The allocation of state general funds to the Conservation Fund through the proposed sales tax dedication would enable the LDWF to more thoroughly fulfill its mission relative to habitat conservation/management, biological research, aquatic weed control and enforcement of regulations as well as more sufficiently address nongame wildlife needs and nuisance wildlife management, scenic rivers, education and outreach, providing fishing and shooting opportunities to underserved communities and other important functions of modern natural resource conservation agencies. Additionally, the LDWF has pressing needs to update its fish hatcheries, regional offices, and facilities on its Wildlife Management Areas, including roads and bridges. Some of these buildings are literally falling apart they are so old and worn.
In addition to the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, some of the other sportsmen and conservation groups supporting SB 18 are Ducks Unlimited, CCA of Louisiana, Louisiana Nature Conservancy, Association of Louisiana Bass Clubs, Bayou State Bowhunters Association and the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Anglers and wildlife advocates who are concerned about the future of fish and wildlife conservation in the State of Louisiana should contact their representatives to urge their support. Email addresses for the members of the Louisiana House of Representatives are available on the web at http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Reps/H_Reps_Email.asp.
* Based on 2003 data.