BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho Rep. Russ Fulcher has signed on to cosponsor a bill that seeks to eliminate a federal tax on firearms and ammunition — which has served as a major source of funding to state wildlife management agencies for 85 years.
Fulcher joined dozens of other Republican representatives in cosponsoring legislation proposed by Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Georgia, on June 22. Idaho’s other representative, Republican Mike Simpson, did not cosponsor the bill. The Idaho Statesman has reached out to Fulcher’s office for comment.
The legislation, called the RETURN (Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now) our Constitutional Rights Act of 2022, would eliminate the 11% federal tax on hunting firearms, ammunition, and bows and arrows that’s part of the Pittman-Robertson Act. It would also eliminate a 10% tax on handguns.
The Pittman-Robertson Act was established in 1937, and tax funds collected from hunters go to a wildlife restoration fund, where they are allocated to state wildlife departments like the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Similar legislation, called the Dingell-Johnson Act, collects taxes on fishing equipment to be used by wildlife agencies.
Since the legislation’s inception, Idaho has received $263.5 million total from Pittman-Robertson funds. In recent years, the agency has received millions in funding each year, hitting a high of $21,319,340 this fiscal year, according to data shared by Fish and Game. Pittman-Robertson funds made up an average of 14% of Fish and Game’s total revenue between 2017 and 2020.
The funds can be used for hunter education and safety, administration, and conservation, including habitat restoration and species management. Idaho Fish and Game has used its funding to help secure conservation easements, manage elk and mule deer, improve shooting ranges, restore wildfire areas, and more.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO FISH AND GAME FUNDING?
The bill Fulcher is cosponsoring would replace the firearm and archery tax revenue with funds from the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Mineral Leasing Act, which generate revenue from leases for offshore oil and gas drilling and coal, oil, natural gas, and other mineral uses on federal land. Currently, that revenue goes to the general fund.
The bill would designate $800 million or less annually to the wildlife conservation account. Pittman-Robertson annual allocations have exceeded that amount twice — in fiscal years 2015 ($808.4 million) and 2022 ($1.1 billion).
The tax on hunters and anglers has been called out in recent years as an unfair burden on a population that has been dwindling for decades. But rather than do away with the firearm and archery taxes, some groups have proposed sharing the weight of conservation funding between hikers, campers, kayakers, birdwatchers, and other outdoor recreators by taxing gear like tents, backpacks, binoculars, and kayaks to contribute to the wildlife restoration fund.
Clyde’s legislation makes no mention of alternative recreation funding, and a news release about the bill focuses instead on what Clyde calls “treacherous threats that seek to weaponize taxation in order to price this constitutional right out of the reach of average Americans.”
“I firmly believe that no American should be taxed on their enumerated rights, which is why I intend to stop the Left’s tyranny in its tracks by eliminating the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition,” Clyde said.
The legislation has been sent to the House Ways and Means and Natural Resources committees. Fulcher, who is a Natural Resources committee member, has already earned backlash from a prominent Idaho sportsmen’s group over his endorsement of the legislation.
“This is a direct assault on wildlife conservation and hunters. Congressman Fulcher and the other 57 cosponsors should know better,” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, in a news release. “Eighty-five years ago, hunters and gun owners self-imposed this excise tax to give back and ensure we would have robust wildlife populations to pursue.
“It was wildly popular then as it is now,” Brooks added. “I bet you can’t find a single sportsman that wants this — that wouldn’t gladly pay for the resource we cherish.”