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PA Bill Would Let Game Commission Set License Fees

March 25, 2016
PAGC

HARRISBURG, PA - Legislation that would enable the Pennsylvania Game Commission to set fees for hunting and furtaker licenses recently moved forward in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 1166 was introduced March 18, and today the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee unanimously moved the bill out of committee. It would need to pass by majority votes in the Senate, then the House of Representatives, before it could be signed into law by the governor.

Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said Senate Bill 1166 would serve to ensure wildlife conservation in Pennsylvania is adequately funded, both now and in the future.

"It's no secret the Game Commission is in financial crisis," Hough said. "It's been more than 17 years since there's been a license-fee increase in Pennsylvania, and in the past year, we've laid off staff, ended agreements with several limited-term employees and opted to forego recruitment of a new class of wildlife conservation officers, even though there already are vacant positions waiting to be filled.

"All of these measures have their consequences," Hough said. "Simply put, inadequate funding for wildlife conservation means less can be accomplished for Pennsylvanians and wildlife."

Hunters and trappers have demonstrated clear support for a license-fee increase, with most of the major sportsmen's organizations with statewide membership formally supporting an increase.

Hough said the proposed legislation, which allows for timely and incremental license-fee increases, would put an end to the fiscal roller-coaster rides the Game Commission, hunter and trappers must take when decades pass without an adjustment for inflation.

"When fees aren't adjusted to account for rising inflationary expenses, it's like kicking the can down the road, and you end up with an increase that comes all at once," Hough said. "Nobody wants that.

"We are at a point now where our next license-fee increase will need to be large enough to help us catch up, after 17 years without one," Hough said. "But Senate Bill 1166 would give us the authority to make that stitch in time and, when necessary, approve a smaller increase that allows our operations to continue, and our mission to continue being carried out.

"Those smaller increases are going to be easier to accept for all who pay them myself included," Hough said.

Hough said if the Game Commission is given authority to set license fees, no decision to increase fees will be made without considering the effects higher prices will have on license buyers. When license fees increase, license sales usually see a modest decline. He said the legislation would motivate the agency to set prices that are affordable to the highest number of hunters and trappers.

"Ultimately, we would be looking to lock-in fees as best as possible," Hough said. "There still will be a need at times to raise fees to adjust to rising costs, but at the same time, Senate Bill 1166 would enable all of us to avoid the inevitable big spike that has come at the end of a period where fees have been inadequately low for far too long.

"Senate Bill 1166 is exactly what Pennsylvania needs," Hough said. "We urge the General Assembly to place this authority in our hands, and we urge hunters and trappers to make their support for this bill known, as well."

Unlike many state agencies, the Game Commission does not receive funding from the state's taxpayers. The agency is funded primarily through three sources the fees hunters and trappers pay for their licenses, an annual share from a federal excise tax placed on sporting arms and ammunition, and revenue derived from things like energy leases and timber sales on lands owned by the Game Commission.

License fees always have been an important component of the Game Commission's revenue. Since the last license-fee increase became effective in 1999, however, the cost of just about everything has gone up without the fee ever once being adjusted for inflation.

Senate Bill 1166 is sponsored by Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties, and cosponsored by Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe and Northampton counties; Sen. Richard Alloway II, R-Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and York counties; Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin and Perry counties; Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Beaver, Greene and Washington counties; Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny County; Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Dauphin, Lebanon and York counties; Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny and Westmoreland counties; Sen. Scott R. Wagner, R-York County; Sen Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County; and Sen. Sean Wiley, D-Erie County.

 
 

 

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