Tax On High-end Outdoor Tents, Clothing, More Would Help Fund Washington Wildlife Management

A bipartisan bill just introduced in Olympia would use a two-tenths of 1 percent tax on certain outdoor recreational equipment and apparel to help fund Washington wildlife management.

CAMPERS ENJOY A STAY AT A WASHINGTON STATE PARK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Hunters and anglers, who already fund that noble cause through fishing and hunting fees as well as excise taxes on some of our gear, would be exempt if we presented our licenses at the checkstand.

But hikers, campers, water skiers and others buying high-end rain jackets, big-ticket tents and other stuff selling for $200 or more would be charged it on top of regular sales tax.

Another section of the bill levies a second two-tenths of 1 percent “use tax” on all state residents “for the privilege of using within this state recreational equipment and apparel,” though sportsmen presenting their licenses at the point of sale wouldn’t have to pay.

Revenues from both would go into the State Wildlife Account and help patch up the budget of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which oversees not only fisheries and hunting seasons, but a million acres of the state and numerous boat launches that nonconsumptive users also enjoy.

While sportsmen have long shouldered the pay-to-play burden, it’s felt that nonhunters and -anglers have not put in their fair share for upkeep of lands and waters they access or the health of the state’s animals.

This bill appears to help them do so in part, although “recreational equipment” is only partially defined at this point — does it include optics for watching and photographing critters?

The bill comes as WDFW is requesting the Legislature to boost its budget by more than $60 million through a combination of strong infusion from the General Fund (75 percent) and a 15 percent fee hike on fishing and hunting licenses (25 percent).

That would help make up for the sharp drop in state funding since the Great Recession, catch up with inflation since the last increase in 2011 and to be able to perform the myriad tasks that lawmakers and the public ask it to do.

“Nobody loves and cares for nature more than the people of Washington,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest and a member of WDFW’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group. “This is a way we can give back to nature, and support the Department of Fish and Wildlife that is charged with making sure our heritage is healthy enough to be enjoyed by those who will come after us.”

The bill would not apply to gear for playing football and baseball as well as indoor sports, along with firearm — already taxed through the Pittman-Robertson Act — watercraft, bicycle, snowmobile, jet ski and ATV purchases.

Cosponsors include three Republicans — prime sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz along with Reps. Richard DeBolt and Jacquelin Maycumber — and five Democrats — Reps. Brian Blake, Strom Peterson, Beth Doglio, Joe Fitzgibbon and Mike Chapman.

Expect to hear much more about this one in the coming weeks.

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