In keeping with the present framework of the American System of Conservation Funding, a state-level sales tax on outdoor gear can provide an additional dedicated revenue source for agencies that manage both game and non-game species.
Conservation funding in the United States is largely a “user-pays, public benefits” structure in which those that consumptively use the resource pay for the privilege and/or the right to do so. State agencies are the primary managers of game and non-game species and contribute significantly to conservation of fish and wildlife habitats. Thus, ensuring adequate funding for state agencies is vitally important to the continued responsible management of fish and wildlife. Sporting license sales, as well as excise tax revenue collected through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux Acts, provide important revenue streams for these agencies.
Based on the framework established by the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux Acts, a state-level sales tax on outdoor gear can provide additional revenue for these agencies. Presently, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia have dedicated a portion of their state sales tax collected on outdoor equipment specifically for conservation purposes. In all instances, a portion of the taxes that are already in place on outdoor sporting gear are re-directed to a state conservation fund.
Points of Interest
- A sales tax on outdoor gear maintains the “user pays – public benefits” principle that is already in place through the American System of Conservation Funding and does not levy any additional tax burden on the general consumer.
- A dedicated tax on outdoor gear can generally be passed with simple legislation and can have low overall administrative costs.
- The Texas Sporting Goods Sales Tax generates up to $168 million per year. A constitutional amendment to fully dedicate this funding to the Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Historical Commission passed by popular vote on Nov. 5, 2019.
- In 2018, Georgia passed the Outdoor Stewardship Act (HB 332). The legislation provides a dedicated funding mechanism for the conservation of priority lands, the stewardship of state parks and wildlife management areas, and the support of local parks and preserves. The Trust Fund is supported by 75 percent of sales and use tax from outdoor recreation equipment. The effort had long been a conservation issue in the state. However, final approval for the use of sales tax revenue required an amendment to the Georgia Constitution. This amendment, passed by the legislature as HR 238), was approved by Georgia voters in November 2018.
If properly constructed, a sales tax on outdoor gear can provide a substantial source of revenue for state fish and wildlife agencies, particularly if safeguards are put in place that prevent the funds from being diverted to other accounts. Legislators should explore and support options similar to a dedicated sales tax on outdoor goods to expand conservation funding in their states.