U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and David Vitter (R-LA) today introduced the bipartisan Return Our State Shares Act to ensure that mineral royalty payments and resources from sportsmen and restoration trust funds that are owed to Colorado, Louisiana, and other states, will no longer be wrongfully subject to the sequester.
The mineral leasing revenues are dispersed to states and communities that depend on the funds to help run local governments and schools and provide other critical community services. The sportsmen and restoration trust funds provide habitat and other environmental improvements to states and other constituencies. All of the funds in question are generated from the private sector, passed through the federal government and are then dispersed to states and other entities on a monthly or regular basis.
As part of the automatic budget cuts commonly referred to as "sequestration," and despite the fact that these are funds owed to states under law and are not taxpayer dollars pulled from the Treasury, the Interior Department and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) plan to continue to withhold millions in royalty and trust fund payments through each fiscal year. At the end of each year they will return the onshore mineral royalties and restoration funds to states in one lump sum.
Withholding the payments from states and communities until the end of the year disrupts important predictability and has the potential to harm their budgeting and borrowing processes.
"These revenues are not federal spending and are not even being used to reduce the deficit once they're sequestered. Our bill ensures that communities receive these dollars when they need them to balance their budgets and provide critical services," Bennet said. "Congress should find a smarter way to reduce the debt -- but at the very least it should pass this bill to prevent revenue from wrongfully being withheld; especially if it isn't going to deficit reduction anyway."
"It is absolutely ridiculous for States to wait an arbitrary amount of time to receive the funds that are theirs, regardless of sequestration. Our legislation will cut the red tape and allow States to bypass the unnecessary one-year delays on program funds that are not affected by sequestration and do not reduce the deficit," Vitter said.
The Bennet-Vitter Release Our State Shares Act removes the Treasury accounts derived from the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA), the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), the RESTORE Act, and the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs from the sequester completely, thereby ensuring states receive their full payment at the appropriate time. None of these accounts are funded by taxpayer dollars.
Guidance regarding the implementation of the sequester from OMB and Treasury suggests that offshore mineral royalties and the additional trust fund accounts included in the bill should be treated the same way as onshore mineral royalties and Gulf Coast restoration funds, meaning they will be withheld and sent to states at the end of the fiscal year.
In a letter of support for the bill to Bennet, Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI) stated: " (CCI) wishes to express gratitude and support for your bill that would exempt payments made under the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA) from the sequestration budget reductions. Colorado stood to lose $8.4 million dedicated for sorely needed transportation, education and other infrastructure projects. It is gratifying Interior remitted the payments back to the states. These funds should be protected from future discretionary designations."
"These conservation trust funds were created to ensure our country's national resources will be protected despite disagreement over other federal spending," said Larry Schweiger, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "We support the Return Our State Shares Act because funds paid by hunters, anglers, and energy companies to ensure the sustainability of wildlife and the environment should do just that."
"We thank the Sponsors of this bill for keeping the trust with America's sportsmen and women by permanently exempting the Trust Funds from sequestration," said Dan Forster, President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Director, Georgia Wildlife Resources Division. "The states will use these funds to fulfill our conservation commitments to our hunting, shooting and fishing constituents and for the long-term benefit and use by all Americans."
The Return Our State Shares Act is cosponsored by Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Richard Shelby (R-MS) and Bill Nelson (D-FL).