What The Trump Budget Means For Boating

By Ryck Lydecker

As Congress shapes a new federal budget heading into the fall, some important programs to boaters are targeted for cuts. We look into the details.

Federal budgetThe 2018 federal budget details some large cuts to agencies that provide services that boaters rely on. How the reduced funds will be allocated within those agencies is unknown. (Photo: ThinkstockPhotos.com/Ingram Publishing)

On March 16, 2017, when President Donald Trump released his proposed budget for next year, he called for a $54 billion increase in defense spending for fiscal year 2018 that begins October 1 of this year. To pay for it, his "Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again" has advocated funding cuts by roughly the same amount that would hit "most federal agencies" and many government-provided services, including some that boaters have relied on for decades.

While the blueprint contained few specifics — that comes later in the cycle, and much has likely changed already as you read this — the document calls for retaining federal funding for "core government functions," some of which boaters need, such as "accurate and timely weather forecasts," with more than $1 billion for the National Weather Service, as well as maintaining funding for the development of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) charting services, and funding its current generation of polar-orbiting and geostationary weather satellites.

Among the proposed cuts that could affect boating, however, the blueprint calls for a 17-percent reduction for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Civil Works side (which pays for dredging, waterways management, and flood control). Whether or not Congress adjusts that cut and how it may play out on our navigable waterways will become clearer by the September 30 deadline.

Boaters should keep their eyes on the fate of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget. Trump's budget proposal calls for a 31 percent cut that would eliminate funding for the EPA's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which works on invasive-species reduction, pollution cleanup, and wildlife protection; the Chesapeake Bay Program, which oversees the restoration of the bay and its watershed; as well as water quality and marine-life preservation programs for Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and South Florida. The Trump budget also eliminates many of the EPA's air-pollution, clean-power, climate, research, and regional pollution initiatives.

Given the initial congressional outcry against all the cuts, the Trump administration could have trouble passing the cuts in domestic spending it seeks for fiscal year 2018 — but time will tell, and it will likely be September before we have a good understanding of what next year's budget will really look like.

Current 2017Proposed for 2018% Change
*Permanent appropriation through Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund; exempted from budget process
National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NOAA)
Surface weather observation and ocean data collection
$189 million$235 million+23%
National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA)
Commercial and recreational saltwater-fisheries management
$848 million$821 million-3%
National Ocean Service (NOAA)
Coastal zone management
$499 million$385 million-23%
National Weather Service (NOAA)
Forecasting, marine weather; emergency warning; offshore data-buoy system
$987 million$937 million-5%
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Interior Dept.)
Federal Assistance* (boating facilities, ramps, pumpouts, sportfish restoration)
$30 million$30 million
U.S. Coast Guard
Office of Boating Safety*
$121 million$119 million-1.6%
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Civil Works (dredging, waterways, flood control, locks, and dams)
$6 billion$5 billion-17%
Environmental Protection Agency
$8.2 billion$5.7 billion-30%

The initial draft of the White House budget blueprint called for cutting the U.S. Coast Guard budget by 14 percent. The administration quickly backed off that cut, however, now proposing to keep the service's $10 billion budget flat compared with the previous year. Agency commanders say the Coast Guard needs additional funding to fulfill its duties, which include search-and-rescue efforts, defense against drug smugglers, and immigration law enforcement.

Meanwhile, in other line items to keep an eye on, the initial Trump proposal would eliminate $250 million in targeted NOAA grants and programs that support coastal and marine management, research, and education. Also eliminated would be NOAA's Sea Grant program, which is located in every coastal and Great Lakes state and works on a wide scope of valuable initiatives, from sustainable coastal development to maritime law and clean-marina programs. Funding cuts are also targeted for the development of a next-generation weather modeling system, efforts to extend operational weather outlooks from 16 to 30 days, and a tsunami-warning system for the West Coast. Congress will have the final say on the 2018 budget this fall when the 12 budget bills required under the Constitution come to the vote.

"Funding for boating-related services falls under the agencies affected by these proposed cuts," says BoatUS Government Affairs manager David Kennedy. "How these agencies will allocate reduced funds is unclear. Recreational boaters are one constituency among many that use the services of agencies like the National Weather Service, the Coast Guard, NOAA, EPA, and the National Park Service. But we're important constituents of these agencies. We have to make the case that broader programs and spending authorities that deal with services like environmental restoration, fisheries management, and navigation all have important components that boaters need and use."

Kennedy also pointed out that cuts in the Army Corps of Engineers' dredging budget, for instance, could be applied to all of that agency's projects, from digging ever-deeper channels at huge container ports to maintaining shallow-draft harbors and shoaling ocean inlets navigated by recreational boaters. Or, he says, through the appropriations process, Congress could tell the Army Corps where to make the cuts.

"It comes down to how an agency, with direction from the Office of Management and Budget and from Congress, decides to spend the money it gets," he says. "We're keeping a very close eye on this whole process and making the case for boating every time there's a legitimate opportunity."

How To Stay Up To Date

The budget debates underway in Washington, D.C., deserve the attention of all recreational boaters right now. To stay up to date, visit BoatUS.com/Gov/Budgetwatch to check out our new online BoatUS Budget Watch. (Also, see "BoatUS budget watch" below.)

"Congress will have the last word in the budget appropriations bills that should pass later this year," says Kennedy. "Meantime, as discussions go forward over funding decisions for federal programs that affect boating, BoatUS will be right there in Washington making the case that supporting boating, and the $37 billion industry that we represent, makes good sense for the country."

BoatUS Budget Watch

The chart above covers the federal agencies that provide specific services or programs that can apply to boating or that can affect boating activity. The numbers reflect total agency spending as authorized by Congress for the current year (FY 2017). As the 2018 budget takes shape over the coming months, BoatUS will post the amounts proposed from Congress and from the Trump administration, as available, at BoatUS.com/Gov/Budgetwatch. In the final analysis, Congress will set FY 2018 spending amounts. So if a particular service or program is important to your boating region or to your interests, it's important to speak up as the process goes forward. Go to BoatUS.com/Gov for links to contact your members of Congress.

Trust Fund Protects Specific Boating Programs

Under the proposed budget, the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety, which promotes boater safety and education, will be affected by cuts (an estimated 1.6 percent). But because it's partially funded through the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, the effects on its programs will be minimized.

"Those 'trust-fund' monies come from federal excise taxes we boaters pay for boat fuel, fishing gear, and other essentials," says David Kennedy, manager of BoatUS Government Affairs. "Through this fund, those dollars funnel back to the states to pay for boating safety, education, and law-enforcement programs; launch ramps for trailer boaters; marina slips for transient boats; sewage pumpout facilities; and a variety of salt- and freshwater fishery-conservation efforts. Trust-fund dollars are not governed by Congress's annual budget decisions." 

Contributing editor Ryck Lydecker, part of our Government Affairs team for many years, writes about policy issues affecting boaters.

— Published: August/September 2017


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