The legislature this week considered a measure that would have increased hunting and fishing license fees in order to raise about $11 million for the Department of Natural Resource’s Game and Fish Fund. That revenue helps support important needs such as fish stocking, enforcement and management of wildlife areas, conservation law enforcement, and research. More than half of the Game and Fish Fund’s revenue comes from license fees but because those haven’t been increased in more than a decade, since 2001, the Game and Fish Fund is predicted to run out of money by July 2013.
The fee-increase proposal has broad, bipartisan support not just in the legislature, but from outdoor enthusiasts across the state. Despite this broad support, the measure failed when presented to the Senate this week by a vote of 27-39.
For many of us, a rejection of the license fee increase proposal does not indicate a lack of support for the outdoors and our great recreational heritage. We all understand it is critically important to support fish and wildlife management and want to keep this a priority for our state, which relies heavily on these types of outdoor activities. Asking us to support fee increases for fish and deer, however, while simultaneously blocking efforts to raise revenue for other critical needs such as nursing home residents and school children is absolutely wrong. That is why the measure failed in the Senate.
For the past two years, my caucus and the Governor have been trying to pass balanced, responsible measures to raise revenue for the state’s schools. Instead, last year’s final budget deal borrowed $2.7 billion from our children, $2.4 billion of which the state still owes them. We’ve tried to pass bills to close outdated tax loopholes that benefit big corporations and use that money to pay back schools. That’s been handily rejected out of fear of raising taxes or fees.
Last year, we tried to use the same measure – closing corporate tax loopholes – to help balance the budget and avoid big property tax increases. Again, the proposal failed and instead, Republicans passed a tax bill that will cause $1 billion in property tax increases across the state over the next three years. When we tried to remedy that increase and provide property tax relief this year, that proposal also was rejected because opposing fee and tax changes was more important than providing property tax relief to middle-class property owners across the state.
Republicans have continued to avoid state tax or fee increases for core functions of our state government during the past two years, while they force property tax increases on our local property tax bills. Yet, they are asking us to stand behind a fee increase for fish and deer. This is the wrong balance of priorities for our state. Our fishing and hunting culture is vitally important, but so are many other things.
Voting against these fee increases does not indicate lack of support for our wildlife, or for the state’s outdoor recreation industry. It represents a strong desire to be honest about priorities and do what’s right for the entire state, not just one portion of our heritage.