Davis: Peter, Paul both broke now

Published 1:54 am Saturday, September 5, 2015


Most people would agree robbing Peter to pay Paul is rarely the solution for any funding problem. In the case of Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and the present General Fund crisis, it is even less of a viable solution because of the potential for far-reaching consequences and the crippling effect that reduced funding for the ADCNR would have on our state’s fish, wildlife, and economy.

ADCNR is primarily funded by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and the federal match for these license sales. These federal funds are generated from excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, marine electronics and motorboat fuel, and were established through federal legislation approved in 1937 (Pittman-Robertson Act), 1950 (Dingell-Johnson Act), and 1984 (Wallop-Breaux Amendment). In addition to establishing these funds, the legislation also protected them from being diverted away from their singular intended purpose – to help fund state fish and wildlife agencies.

Since this American System of Conservation Funding – “a user-pays, public-benefits” system – was implemented, more than $16 billion dollars have been entrusted to state agencies across the country for fish and wildlife restoration and management through the apportionment of excise taxes, and revenue from hunting and angling licenses, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to state-level conservation each year. These sportsmen-generated dollars are used to improve access to public lands and waterways; administer hunter and boater safety education; enhance wetlands protection, resulting in associated water filtration and flood retention benefits; and, improved soil and water conservation – all which benefit the public. This is a fiscally responsible funding system, wherein the consumptive users of our fish and wildlife resources shoulder the burden of funding state-level conservation and from which the public at-large benefits.

Unfortunately, the Senate ended the most recent Special Legislative Session with a budget that would have shifted over $18 million dollars from the ADCNR straight to the General Fund. What most people fail to realize is that in order to meet this edict, funds necessarily would have been transferred from the Game and Fish division as there are not enough unencumbered dollars in State Parks and State Lands to avoid diverting these “protected” game and fish dollars that receive the federal match.

Consequently, the state of Alabama would be considered to be in “diversion” or “diverting funds” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and would therefore be ineligible to receive any federal funding through the Pittman-Robertson or Dingell-Johnson Acts. Further, the state would be required to pay back $25 million of recently received federal funds.

As a result, the ADCNR would be forced to make drastic cuts, which would carry over to the people of Alabama, both consumptive and non-consumptive users alike. Among many other setbacks, it would likely mean less public land available for hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, canoeing, and birding, diminished ability to protect clean water, and less funding to effectively manage game and fish species.

Moreover, Amendment 272 of Alabama’s Constitution, ratified in 1972 specifically states: “No funds accruing to the game and fish fund of the state of Alabama from any source whatsoever shall be expended for any other purpose than the payment of administrative costs of the game and fish activities of the department of conservation and for the protection, propagation, preservation, investigation of game and fish and public use of the game and fish resources of this state.”

It is hard to believe that after the ADCNR’s budget has been raided to the tune of $27 million over the last four years that state legislators in Montgomery would look to further deplete the state agency tasked with managing Alabama’s abundant natural resources.

My fellow legislators and I are working tirelessly to pass a budget that is fair to all citizens of the state. Three things are evident though: our state parks, Forever Wild and public hunting and fishing opportunities are of the utmost importance to the vast majority of Alabamians, we cannot afford a fifth year of transfers from the ADCNR, and losing $25 million in federal funds, by transferring $18 million to cover a general fund deficit is at its core, fiscally irresponsible. After four years of robbing Peter to pay Paul, both Peter and Paul are broke.


Rep. Randy Davis is Chairman of Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and Vice Chairman of Hunting and Fishing on the Agricultural Committee.