House Bill 1231 creates the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. It passed the Mississippi House of Representatives 107-2, which is an overwhelming margin of support in today’s times. More than 780,000 sportsmen and women in Mississippi would benefit from this legislation. While these sportsmen and women currently contribute nearly $8 billion to our state’s economy, this legislation will not only help increase that amount, it will enhance outdoor recreation, as our sporting and natural heritage has always been a key part of Mississippi’s quality of life.
This historic, bipartisan legislation would allow Mississippi to further improve its natural heritage while at the same time, promote a healthy lifestyle. For example, the American Heart Association found that for every $1 spent on building walking and biking trails, $3 in medical expenses could be saved. This is especially important for our state’s children, in particular, who suffer from a lack of access to close-to-home recreation, which has led in part to the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world. As we continue with the COVID-19 pandemic, the important role our outdoors plays in improving the health of our citizens is even heightened.
Establishment of the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund would support our economy and create jobs without raising taxes. Considering federal excise and sales tax, sportsmen already pay some of the highest taxes in the state – a total of 17 percent. Other Southeastern states have passed very similar programs, either through legislative or ballot initiatives. Mississippi and Louisiana are the only two southeastern states without such a fund.
While the improvement of many of Mississippi’s natural resources are national priorities and many federal funds exist to improve them, Mississippi struggles in raising the necessary funds to match federal funds. The state is losing an estimated $40 million per year due to this lack of non-federal, matching funds. Hence, if passed, this trust fund will allow our state to significantly multiply our investment with other federal and private resources to deliver projects that support outdoor recreation and conserve our public and private lands.
Mississippi is a global leader in design and manufacture of outdoor recreation products – from boats to camouflage to ammunition to game calls – and the list goes on. Research indicates for every $1 million invested in conservation, 59 new jobs are created. In short, outdoor recreation is a growing and diverse economic super sector that is a vital cornerstone of successful communities in Mississippi and cannot be ignored. This trust fund, in addition to the strong business climate that Mississippi provides, will allow this business and industry sector to grow in our state.
Recent polling demonstrates that more than 75 percent of Mississippi voters, regardless of political party, race, age or gender support allocating a percentage of state sales tax on sporting goods to reinvest in conservation. HB 1231 will create a state board, in which a majority of the voting members must be approved by the Lieutenant Governor, to oversee this fund.
Whether this bill becomes a reality or dies rests in the hands of the Mississippi Senate and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann. Wildlife Mississippi and the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Coalition strongly support HB 1231, and we respectfully ask each of Mississippi’s Senators to join the House to make this legacy legislation a reality. Mississippi’s future depends on it.