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Report: Pa. could save $5M by merging Game, Fish and Boat commissions

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 1:34 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania is the only state with separate game and fish commissions, and it's likely to stay that way, says a leading proponent of merging the agencies.

“The chances are minimal, at best,” said Rep. Robert Godshall, R-Montgomery County, a wildlife and hunting enthusiast who believes the agencies should merge.

Consolidating the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission would save about $5 million annually, according to a detailed report released on Wednesday by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee. It's an issue that has been debated periodically for 60 years.

“It's common sense,” Godshall said of a merger. Despite the odds against legislative approval, “I still want my voice to be heard,” he said.

Officials of both agencies told committee staff they worry about the possible “dilution” of their agencies' missions, according to the report.

“The question is, why take two very efficient agencies and combine them into one that is less efficient?” said John Arway, executive director of the fish and boat commission. “Simply put, we do a lot with a little.”

Matt Hough, executive director of the game commission, told the committee that he believes a merger would result in “minimal savings.”

The committee report suggested taxpayer savings could be less than $5 million depending on factors such as building renovations, “bumping rights” of employees for jobs and coordination of computer services.

“It's a source of pride for Pennsylvania (that) we have resisted trends to move to a single agency like other states,” Hough told the committee.

“I don't think there's much interest in merging them,” said Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Altoona. “We don't put any (state) tax money into those agencies.”

Hough said other states' officials have told him they wish they had separate agencies like Pennsylvania. Godshall, a lifelong hunter, challenged that assertion.

After a similar study 10 years ago, Godshall said he wrote to officials in other states to assess their preference on single or separate agencies. He said the game commission tried to sabotage his survey by telling out-of-state agencies not to respond, but Godshall said he got 25 responses showing states with consolidated agencies prefer it.

The game commission effort to interfere with his survey was “a little bit unethical,” Godshall said.

“I agree,” said Hough, who was not director at the time.

“It's time we start looking at what's going on in other states,” Godshall said. There's no reason officers of each agency couldn't learn to enforce fish and game laws, he said.

“I think it still needs to be done,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, adding the state would be better able to oversee one agency.

“We're the only state that hasn't (consolidated),” Metcalfe said. “Both independent agencies have thumbed their noses at the public again and again.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405.

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