I think Bruce Smith is an idiot and the funds from hunting license sales are being mismanaged.
Harrisburg Smith asks for hunting license hike
By John Hilton, March 28, 2006
Hunters could pay $10 to $15 more for an adult hunting license if legislation introduced Monday gains enough support.
That’s a big if.
The last increase in the state hunting license was passed in 1999 after four years of wrangling by the state Legislature. With 2006 being an election year for already embattled lawmakers, state Rep. Bruce Smith, R-92, concedes that finding the 102 votes necessary to hike hunting fees again will be a tall order.
But Smith — who is not seeking re-election — says the increase is needed because revenue from current fees does not cover the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s operating costs. The commission receives 60 percent of its funding through hunting licenses and reported a $3 million shortfall last year.
Smith is introducing two bills with varying fee increases. One would raise the basic adult resident hunting license from $19 to $29; the other would raise the fee to $34. If approved this year, the increases would not take effect until 2007.
Smith, the chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, was joined at a midday press conference by representatives from several sportsmen’s groups. He compared the $30 cost of a hunting license to a tank of gasoline, tickets to professional sporting events and a round of golf.
The bills "are a starting point," Smith said. "They are not carved in stone. No one likes paying more for anything."
In addition, Smith’s legislation would charge hunters $10 for a new pheasant stamp and $5 for a turkey stamp. The Game Commission now charges a turkey stamp fee only for hunters who want to take a second bird during the spring season.
Smith is introducing a third bill that would create a $20 conservation stamp that both hunters and non-hunters — such as hikers and bird-watchers — would have to purchase to use state game lands.
While the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs voted last fall to support a hunting-license fee increase, they do not support the conservation stamp, and Smith acknowledged that "the chances of the conservation stamp passing are slim."
Hunters don’t want to encourage recreational use of state gamelands, said Ed Wentzler, legislative director for the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania.
"Those lands were purchased with hunters’ dollars to give access... primarily for hunters," he said. "We have run into trouble specifically with off-road vehicles and four-wheel vehicles, and the conflicts run into the hunting season."
The Game Commission supports a fee increase to help bridge a funding shortage that has sapped the agency’s programming.
According to an audit by the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, 66 of 732 salaried positions were unfilled at the Game Commission as of Dec. 12, 2005.
The commission has taken several steps to reduce operating costs, including reducing its budget for the deer fencing program and for bear damage complaints and reducing the number of pheasants produced from 200,000 to 100,000 birds annually.
Likewise, the commission delayed starting a new wildlife conservation officer training class. The last class was held in 2001-02. The commission now has 15 WCO vacancies or 10 percent of the workforce.
"I don’t even know who our WCO is right now," says Dave Eakin, first vice president for the Mechanicsburg Sportsmen’s Association, which supports the fee increase. "The Game Commission needs the money. They’re already behind and they’re canceling programs now."
Costs for the commission will continue to escalate because of contracted increases included in the master agreement between the AFSCME union and the state. The commission estimates that the 3 percent salary increase and $5 biweekly increase for employee benefits that are in the agreement will cost the game fund more than $1 million in this fiscal year.
A $10 increase in the license fee would add an estimated $18 million to Game Commission coffers, while the higher increase would bring in about $22 million.
Smith noted that license fee increases are usually accompanied by a sharp decrease in the number of renewals — as much as 10 percent.
So far, Smith has one cosponsor for his bill — Rep. Mark McNaughton, R-104, who is also not running for re-election.
"We have two votes and we need 100 more," Smith said. "It’s not my job to get them. It’s the job of the sportsmen of Pennsylvania who care."
The bill was referred to the House Game and Fisheries Committee.