House bill could divert Game and Fish funding

Associate Editor

St. Paul A bill that could potentially raid a dedicated DNR
account and pass the “savings” to the state’s General Fund,
jeopardizing federal funding for Minnesota natural resources,
passed the state House of Representatives late last week.

However, federal funding could provide a level of security for
the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Fund, according to Peggy Adelmann,
administrator of the DNR’s Office of Management and Budget
Services.

“Realistically, I don’t see the Game and Fish Fund being
tapped,” she said this week.

The Krinkie Bill, authored by Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, is
considered the second phase of recovering Minnesota’s budget
shortfall. It passed the House last week, but whether or not
provisions in the bill move on to the governor will be determined
in conference committee next week. The second phase was considered
necessary by House members after February forecasts showed even
larger potential state deficits, Adelmann said.

Earlier this year, a measure approved by legislators anticipated
about $75 million in savings from a hiring freeze and moratorium on
contractual services savings to the General Fund. The House bill
calls for a similar freeze on items funded by sources other than
the General Fund, such as the DNR’s Game and Fish Fund, which is
supplied by hunting and fishing license fees.

That fund also is aided by federal funds earmarked for fish and
wildlife restoration. Money saved by not using the funds for fish
and wildlife and used instead to cover General Fund shortfalls
would constitute a diversion, DNR officials say.

“This is pretty serious business,” said Tim Bremicker, chief of
the DNR’s Division of Wildlife. “If there is such a diversion, the
(U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service could stop sending dollars to the
Game and Fish Fund, then we would have to start cutting
programs.”

This year, that federal funding (Pittman-Robertson and
Dingell-Johnson accounts) is expected to be about $17 million,
according to Adelmann. She said the USFWS has sent a letter to the
state’s Department of Finance commissioner, Pam Wheelock, stating
the implications of such a diversion.

The House bill allows state departments to apply for waivers, or
exemptions. The threat of loss of federal funding especially an
amount as substantial as $17 million provides some level of
protection, Adelmann said. Other programs under DNR jurisdiction
don’t have that protection. Dedicated accounts for such things as
snowmobile trails and ATV trails could be subjected to some
siphoning from the General Fund should the Krinkie Bill become
law.

Exemptions also apply in some cases to the hiring freeze called
for in the bill. In fact, Adelmann said, the DNR already had
received permission to “call back” some seasonal employees.

“The problem is those who don’t come back, or those who come
back and then leave,” Adelmann said. “We don’t have an automatic
that we can fill those positions.”

DNR Fisheries Chief Ron Payer said while some seasonal positions
may be filled, about two to three dozen could be affected by the
House legislation. Among those are the temporary employees who
perform creel surveys. However, he said a waiver had already been
received that would allow the recall of other seasonal employees,
such as those who perform 1837 Treaty monitoring on Mille Lacs.

Regarding a possible moratorium on contracts, Adelmann said the
biggest effect likely would be on appraisals needed for land
acquisition. However, projects included in the current bonding bill
as well as those backlogged are exempt under the House bill
language.

Ira Adelmann, a member of the citizens Budget Oversight
Committee, sent letters to DNR Commissioner Allen Garber, along
with Rep. Krinkie last week, urging them to consider the
implications of tampering with the Game and Fish Fund.

“HF 3270 calls for a moratorium on contractual services and a
hiring freeze for temporary employees, and then captures those
savings from dedicated accounts such as the Game and Fish Fund and
transfers them to the General Fund,” he wrote to Krinkie. “This
diversion of funds would damage the trust that has been generated
among hunters and anglers for the fees on hunting and fishing
licenses.

“In fact, it was just last biennium that sportsmen and women
lobbied to increase these fees, a position supported because we
understood the funds would be dedicated to our natural
resources.”

The full impact of the first phase of DNR cuts isn’t known, but
it’s likely to cost the DNR its Minnesota Conservation Corps
program, as well as several field information officers. Bremicker
said cuts to the DNR also could result in several key positions
including shallow lake specialist and big game specialist not being
filled.

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