Gun sales prevent some environmental sequester cuts at DEEP

A funny thing happened when the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection crunched sequester numbers to figure out how badly the nearly one-third of its operating budget that comes from federal funds would get hit.

They discovered a chunk of that funding was actually going up.

And some of it was going up a lot.

Not only that – a big reason it was going up was guns.

It all goes back  – and we mean back – to two pieces of federal legislation: the 1937 Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act and the 1950 Federal Aid to Sport Fish Restoration Act.

Those two measures placed dozens of excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment from rods, reels and tackle boxes, to bows and arrows to, well guns and ammunition. The tax goes into a fund and then the fund is distributed by formula to every state. In Connecticut the wildlife restoration funding goes to five different programs and the fish restoration goes to seven.

The amount coming into the funds was so high that even when you pull out the just over five percent sequester cut, the result is still a net increase in funding over the previous fiscal year.

So you’re thinking that run on guns in advance of the gun control legislation in Connecticut did this? Has nothing to do with it, for a whole bunch of reasons.

First of all the excise tax is paid by distributors when they purchase guns from a manufacturer. While it’s passed to retail purchasers, it isn’t based on actual retail sales. Second the calculation is based on the previous fiscal year, which ended nearly three months before the Sandy Hook shootings. And third, actual sales are not part of the formula. So if a state had really high gun sales, it would not mean it got more money from the fund. It would likely mean more money IN the fund, since presumably the distributor had to buy more. But all states would share in the windfall.

So how much more are we talking about?

According to Tony Petrillo, a fisheries biologist and the federal aid coordinator for DEEP’s Bureau of Natural Resources, the total funding after the sequester cuts were made to the wildlife act is nearly $3.9 million for fiscal year 2013, up nearly 40 percent. The fish restoration funding increased a more modest three percent to about $3.6 million.

Why the jump? Hard to know, Petrillo said. It could come from efforts in other states, or perhaps anticipated fallout from earlier incidents such as the Aurora shootings in July when talk began of federal gun control legislation. He said it was also hard to know if next year would be even better given that it would include the post-Sandy Hook period.

Petrillo said he’s seen spikes like this before, though called this one “kind of unprecedented.” The two others – around the time the Brady handgun bill passed in 1993 and after President Obama’s first election.

But he also noted the best may be yet to come. While the sequester cuts back the money taken out of the fish and wildlife funds, the same amount still goes in. And it will just sit there waiting to be distributed after the sequester ends.