Merwin: States vs. Sportsmen

We ran a post yesterday under Field Notes about how California's governor wants to tap into state fish-and- wildlife funds to rescue his general-fund budget. This is going to be coming up more often as state budgets feel the squeeze of a tight economy.

For both sportsmen and fish-and-wildlife agencies, though, there might be some hope. Back in 2003 when Mitt Romney was still governor of Massachusetts, he tried to tap that state's fish-and-wildlife fund to help cure a general statewide deficit. Fortunately for anglers and hunters, he ran head-on into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), who said that kind of monetary diversion is a no-no, at least not if Massachusetts wanted to retain some $4 million in annual federal wildlife aid. As reported at the time by the Boston Globe, Romney quickly back-pedaled, and the state legislature nixed the planned raid on fish-and- wildlife monies.

State wildlife agencies get millions of dollars every year through excise taxes paid by sportsmen on hunting and fishing gear along with boating fuel. The program is administered by USFWS, which doles out money to the states as matching grants that are linked in part to fishing and hunting license sales. If that license revenue is diverted somehow from fish and wildlife, then the corresponding federal aid is apparently not payable and would instead be apportioned the other states.

Various state governors and legislators who try reaching into the fish-and-wildlife cookie jar this year may thus wind up getting their fingers burned as Romney did. At least I very much hope