Legislature to take up fee increase proposal

By Bill
Parker

Editor

Lansing – Anglers’ 2006 fishing licenses expired on March 31,
and anglers across the state have been out in force purchasing
their 2007 licenses – without a controversial proposed fee increase
attached.

The state Legislature establishes license fees for the DNR.

State officials say they’ve found sponsors in both the state
House of Representatives and the state Senate for the proposed fee
increases on hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses.

According to DNR spokesperson Mary Dettloff, the proposed
license fee increases will be introduced to the Legislature in two
bills. Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, will introduce a bill in the
Senate to raise the fishing license fees. Rep. Matt Gillard,
D-Alpena, will introduce a bill in the House to increase hunting
fees. Both arms of the Legislature must approve both bills, then
the governor has the option of signing or vetoing the
legislation.

‘They’re working on the language right now,’ Dettloff told
Michigan Outdoor News. ‘They should be introduced soon, probably
after the Easter break.’

NRC commissioner Frank Wheatlake is optimistic the bills will be
on the move in the near future.

‘We do have people who are going to introduce the legislation in
the House and the Senate, and we think it will happen soon,’
Wheatlake said. ‘Then it will be up to the House and Senate leaders
to see if they are going to move them forward and start the process
of discussion. We’re trying to get something on the floor and let
these people (legislators) haggle it out.’

Wheatlake chaired the NRC’s Hunting and Fishing License Package
Work Group, a 19-member panel consisting of representatives from a
variety of constituent groups including Trout Unlimited, U.P.
Whitetails, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the National Wild
Turkey Federation, MSU Extension, the U.P. Tourism and Recreation
Association, the Michigan Farm Bureau, and the Michigan Charter
Boat Association. The group recommended controversial increases in
hunting, fishing, and trapping license fees – some by as much as
300 percent. The increases were proposed to address a projected $8
million deficit the DNR faces for the fiscal year 2007-08, which
begins in September.

The reason for the deficit is declining revenue, department
officials said.

Over 90 percent of the DNR’s programs are paid for with
restricted funds (user fees, license and permit sales) and federal
pass-through monies (Pittman-Robertson). The state General Fund
provides 8.7 percent (about $25 million) of the DNR’s total budget,
down from 23.3 percent a few years ago. That’s nearly a $40 million
loss in General Fund dollars.

The loss is magnified by the fact that the number of hunting and
fishing licenses sold each year has steadily declined during the
past 20 years. According to the work group’s report, the number of
fishing licenses sold in Michigan has declined 21.7 percent since
1986, dropping from 1,483,910 to 1,161,432 in 2005. Hunting license
sales during that same time period fell 14 percent, from 925,332 to
789,244. Add in the annual cost of inflation, and the deficit has
grown even larger.

Wheatlake said that once the legislation is introduced, the DNR
will have to justify its requests.

‘If they want us to continue to downsize, we will. If they want
us to move forward, we will,’ Wheatlake said. ‘The reality is, I
don’t think they’ll go for the full request. They’ll probably
taylor it to what our needs are.’

According to Dettloff, the bills to be introduced will request a
25-percent license fee increase during each of the next four years,
and a 5-percent increase in the fifth and sixth year ‘to keep up
with inflation,’ she said. Wording on the senior discount calls for
steadily decreasing the discounted amount. Seniors currently enjoy
a 60-percent discount, which would be whittled down by 5 percent
each year for the next four years.

‘Seniors would still get a discount,’ Dettloff said. ‘But it
would go down to 40 percent from the current 60 percent.’

Youths would receive a 50-percent license discount, but the age
requirement for a fishing license would drop from 17 to 16.

Wheatlake said the department is disappointed the proposal
didn’t reach the Legislature sooner. Still, he doubts that
legislators will make sportsmen pay an increase – if one is
approved – if they have already purchased their licenses.

‘We wanted it to happen before the licenses went on sale,’ he
said. ‘They (legislators) are the ones who write the laws, so they
can do anything they want, but if there is a change this year, I
don’t see it being retro-active.’

‘We’re hopeful they can get it done yet this year, but it’s
really up to the Legislature,’ Dettloff added.

‘Hunting and fishing license fees go right to the heart of our
budget – the Game and Fish Fund. That pays for things like COs,
field biologists, fish hatcheries, survey work, habitat work,
everything like that.’

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