It’s good news or bad, depending on your perspective.
Lawmakers appear increasingly unlikely to increase the cost of hunting and fishing license fees this year.
What’s more, with 2018 an election year – and lawmakers traditionally loathe to raise fees when their own jobs are on the line — it’s unlikely they’ll take the issue up before 2019
Rep. Keith Gillespie, the York County Republican who chairs the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee, said as much this past week.
The Pennsylvania Game and Fish and Boat commissions have been looking for money. Hunting license prices haven’t changed since 1999, fishing licenses prices since 2004.
Nearly all of Pennsylvania’s statewide organized sportsmen’s groups are supportive of their requests, saying the agencies need the money to support hunters and anglers and fish and wildlife. They’ve told lawmakers so.
So far, though, lawmakers haven’t responded. Not enough of them anyway.
They’re the only ones who can hike fees. Both commissions had been hoping legislators would change that and approve bills allowing them to set their own fees going forward.
Senators did; Representatives have not. And it appears they won’t, Gillespie said.
“I’m not sure we have the energy to give them fee authority,” he said.
It will be tough to get them any money at all, even via a more traditional once-time fee increase, he added.
There are several reasons why.
One is time. Or more specifically, the lack of it.
“If (an increase is) going to happen, it has to happen this fall,” Gillespie said.
Yet, the House of Representatives are in session just 18 more days this year. Senators are in session just 12.
Another is the state budget. Lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolfe agreed on a budget on June 30. They have yet to agree on how to fund it, though.
That debate is dominating everything in Harrisburg right now. Gillespie said “the oxygen has been sucked out of the room” by it, in fact.
Another is, of all things, a map.
In September, at their quarterly meeting in Erie, Fish and Boat Commissioners gave their executive director, John Arway, the authority to cut up to $2 million from the agency’s 2018-19 budget. He’d presumably do it by closing the commission’s Oswayo trout hatchery and stocking 240,000 fewer adult trout, among other things.
The commission put out a map showing which waters would be cut from the stocking list.
They were clustered in three areas – coincidentally the home districts of state lawmakers opposed to increasing license fees.
If that was an attempt to put pressure on certain lawmakers and push a license hike through, it didn’t work, said Rep. Bryan Barbin, a Cambria County Democrat. Instead, “there’s no question” release of the map slowed things down.
“We’re getting sidetracked because these political shots are being fired over the bow. They made a mistake. They inserted politics where they didn’t need to be,” Barbin said.
Many lawmakers still believe the commissions need money, himself included, Barbin said. The Game Commission, he said, needs millions annually to combat chronic wasting disease. The Fish and Boat Commission needs money to repair high hazard dams.
Neither may get any money now, though, at least not in the short term.
Gillespie and Barbin both said they will continue arguing to give the commissions new revenue. Neither is giving up hope of accomplishing that yet this fall.
But neither sounds overly optimistic either.
And in the long-term, any new money for the commissions may come with changes.
Rep. Martin Causer has said he’ll sponsor a resolution to merge the commissions entirely. Barbin is sponsoring a bill to merge the law enforcement and administrative functions of the two.
A merger wouldn’t eliminate the need to raise license fees, Barbin said. It’s not an either-or proposition.
But any savings via a merger or partial merger might make any fees increases that much smaller.
“We should at least be looking at these issues,” Barbin said.
It sounds like lawmakers will have time.