Say ‘Yes’ to a hunting license fee increase
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Feb. 16, 2008.)
I hate to say this, but it’s time the Pennsylvania Game Commission be permitted to raise license fees.
The PGC has no taxing authority.
It has no line item in the state budget.
And it can’t run at a deficit.
I know that lots of hunters will disagree with me. They will say a higher price will mean fewer licenses sold. They’re probably right. They will say fewer licenses sold will mean fewer hunters and fewer hunters will have a weaker voice in game management, gun and hunting rights issues. They have a good point.
Many people may not realize that the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s principle source of funding comes from the hunters who buy licenses. That means that aside from unstable timber and mineral revenues, hunters are paying all the bills. We have not had a license increase in nine years, and the costs of running a game management program continue to rise.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission was chartered in 1895 to remain independent of the state legislature, and as such it cannot run as a government. It has no taxing authority. It has no line item in the state budget. And it can’t run at a deficit.
Like a business, it depends on its customers for revenue. But unlike a business, it can’t raise and lower prices, nor are prices dependent upon the market. The state legislature must approve any license increase proposed by the PGC. Saying “No” is an easy, cost-free, high-visibility way for state legislators to look good while they do wrong.
Being saddled to the state legislature has a benefit. The PGC has no owner. It has no trustees. It has no shareholders. Without these, it would have no fiscal accountability. That’s the role the legislature plays.
Getting politicians to cooperate is time-consuming, so the lag between asking for and getting an increase creates a cumbersome situation. First, one of them must be willing to sponsor the legislation. Then they drag their feet, debate, pander and strike deals – always under pressure from voters – while PGC work goes on and PGC costs continue to rise.
Lots of deer hunters will no doubt think that the PGC has mismanaged the deer program and will say that it should be left to lie in the bed it has made. They might even say that the PGC has failed in its responsibilities. But its charter makes it responsible not just for deer, not just for game animals, but for about 400 wildlife species in the state, even if they’re not game animals. The PGC fails when any species suffers.
The PGC gets pressure from everyone – not just hunters – and there is no way to please everyone. Even the state Supreme Court has gotten into the act, now insisting that the PGC manage wild hogs that have escaped from private owners.
Some people will say that the PGC should cut out waste before asking for an increase – not realizing that the PGC has been in a stringent cost-containment program since 2006 when the legislature most recently failed to act on an increase. It sent lots of people into retirement back then, and many critical jobs have not been filled.
Some hunters will say that the PGC has destroyed small game hunting. Quality small game hunting is available on the land the PGC manages, but it cannot manage private property. Responsibility for the loss of small game habitat cannot be laid on the doorstep of the PGC.
I remember when the $5 I could get for a deer hide was enough to pay for my license. Some hunters might see that as evidence that higher license fees are a sign that hunting is becoming a rich man’s sport. But license fees have a lot less to do with that than limited access to land and the other costs that go into hunting. Comparisons are hard to make, but even with a fee increase (which would be only the second increase in 23 years), the cost of a license in Pennsylvania will be a bargain when compared to other states.
The reality is that the Game Commission has created more opportunities for today’s hunters than any hunters who have gone before. Without proper funding of the PGC, we risk someday looking back on these days as the good old days.