Bob Frye: License fee hikes seem unlikely
It's good news or bad, depending on your perspective.
Lawmakers appear increasingly unlikely to hike the cost of hunting and fishing licenses this year.
What's more, with 2018 an election year — and lawmakers traditionally loath to raise fees when their jobs are on the line — it's unlikely they will take the issue up before 2019
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 those requests and they have told lawmakers so.
So far, though, they haven't responded. And time's running out, said Rep. Keith Gillespie, the York County Republican who chairs the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee.
“If it's going to happen, it has to happen this fall,” Gillespie said.
Yet, the House of Representatives is in session just 18 more days this year, the Senate just 12.
Another obstacle is the state budget. Lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolfe agreed on a budget June 30. They have yet to agree on how to fund it, though. That debate is dominating everything in Harrisburg right now, Gillespie said.
Another is, of all things, a map.
In September, at their quarterly meeting in Erie, Fish and Boat Commissioners gave executive director John Arway the authority to cut up to $2 million from the agency's 2018-19 budget. He presumably would 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: 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,” Barbin said. “They made a mistake. They inserted politics where they didn't need to be.”
Many lawmakers still believe the commissions need money, himself included, Barbin said. Game, he said, needs millions annually to combat chronic wasting disease. Fish and Boat needs money to repair high hazard dams.
Neither might get any money now, though, at least not anytime soon.
Gillespie and Barbin said they will continue seeking to give the commissions new revenue. Neither has given up hope that can be accomplished yet this fall.
But neither sounded optimistic either.
Another reason? Two bills that would merge the agencies, totally or in part, are set to be introduced soon. Neither would eliminate the need to raise license prices, said Barbin, who's interested in exploring a partial merger. But any savings achieved 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.