Although a bill has yet to be drafted, proponents and opponents of a federal tax on outdoor items from hiking boots to recreational vehicles have brought in heavyweight lobbyists to make their case.
The law firm of Patton Boggs, whose clients include Chrysler, MCI and Shell Oil, is working for a coalition of environmental groups and state wildlife agencies that want to impose a tax on outdoor items to pay for wildlife conservation programs.On the other side, recreational industry trade groups have hired Policy Impact Communications, a firm headed by former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour Jr. and Edward Gillespie, a former aide to House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. Other clients include the American Hospital Association and Visa. This week, industry representatives are flooding Capitol Hill this week to lobby against the proposal.
Meanwhile, proponents have put a sample letter on their Web site for supporters to send to makers and sellers of outdoor equipment, in the hope that they can enlist such nationally known businesses as L.L. Bean, Kodak and Wal-Mart.
At the same time, House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., are drafting legislation to earmark some money from offshore oil and gas leases to pay for wildlife conservation programs, rather than imposing an excise tax.
Proponents of the tax say they want those who enjoy the outdoors to pay a small fee to protect wildlife, just as buyers of fishing and hunting equipment pay an excise tax used for fish and game conservation activities. The tax would range from 0.25 percent to 5 percent of the cost of items used for outdoor activities, including wild bird seed, cameras, tents and mountain bikes.
"There's a tremendous need out there that we're trying to take care of," said Naomi Edelson of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the lead agency of the pro-tax coalition. "We don't have any kind of prevention program in place for wildlife that are declining."
Opponents argue that many people who buy backpacks don't go near campsites and the same cameras bought to take pictures of wild birds are purchased by others to photograph new babies.
"The benefit to the person paying is not clear and it wouldn't be in any way related," said Thomas Cove of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. That group's 2,400 members include such companies as Nike, Spalding and Brunswick.