License hike plan a likelihood in ’09

By_Steve Piatt

Editor

Albany – New York state needs additional revenues more now than
ever in its history, facing a huge cash shortage on the heels of a
series of Wall Street meltdowns.

So it’s highly likely an increase in hunting and fishing
licenses could be part of the 2009 legislative proposals put forth
by DEC.

“There could be (a license fee increase proposal) in some form,”
DEC_Assistant Director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Doug
Stang said. “It would be part of our legislative proposals, which
have to be vetted with the governor’s office.”

Stang said DEC officials are currently looking at a number of
ways to boost revenues. At the same time, some dramatic budget cuts
have been made within the department in an effort to offset a
revenue stream that was decimated by the recent economic free
fall.

“We’re brainstorming now on a whole host of ways (to increase
revenues), and license fees are one of those items that are being
considered,” Stang said.

While he said a general license hike “is on the table right
now,” other avenues are also being considered. A mandatory habitat
stamp (currently a voluntary stamp purchase) and increases in other
license fees may also be in the works.

“We’re looking at some of the free licenses,”_Stang confirmed.
“And some of the other minor licenses, such as a baitfish sale
license, which is pitifully low right now. How much we’d look at
raising the general and other licenses, I don’t know. We have to
figure out how much money we actually need.

“But we’re asking ourselves, ‘Where are there potential ways for
us to generate more revenue?’ Obviously for us, license fees are
available.”

Revenues from license sales would be used to prop up the
cash-strapped Conservation_Fund, which was running a deficit of
over $20 million before a recent accounting shift – moving the
salaries of about 220 of the state’s environmental conservation
officers and dozens of other fish and wildlife employees bureau to
the state’s general fund – at least temporarily addressed that cash
shortfall.

New York hasn’t had a hunting or fishing license increase since
Oct. 1, 2002, when the state Legislature approved the current
license fee structure.

In addition, the state is losing millions in potential revenues
in doling out free and reduced licenses to senior sportsmen and
women over the age of 70 and to disabled military veterans. Senior
hunting and fishing license fees could also be bumped up slightly
under a proposal that could make its way to the state Legislature
next year.

At a New York State Conservation Council gathering last month
that was attended by DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, the idea of a
license fee increase was brought forth by some sportsmen. Other
ideas included:

€ a mandatory habitat stamp.

€ a potential combination of the turkey stamp with a new stamp
for pheasant hunters, calling it a “game bird stamp.”

€ potentially removing the bear tag from the general license and
mandating that bear hunters purchase a separate bear stamp.

€ a saltwater fishing license. Federal regulators are moving
toward requiring New York state anglers to purchase a saltwater
fishing license, and New York is looking to beat the feds to the
punch and secure that revenue.

€ increases in the free and reduced license fees.

While a license hike in some form will probably be proposed by
DEC next year, it typically takes up to three years before the new
rates take effect. But Stang says given the gravity of the state’s
financial situation, lawmakers could conceivably hasten that
process.

“It usually takes about three years of discussion,”_Stang said.
“But it could happen (next year) if all the stars line up
correctly. We’re experiencing budget situations that folks haven’t
experienced before, so maybe if push comes to shove it could be
done more quickly.”

New York’s hunting and fishing license fees generally compare
favorably with neighboring states in the Northeast, but Stang said
that even so, that’s not necessarily an apples-to-apples
comparison.

“It’s a bargain if you look at comparative (hunting and fishing
opportunities),”_he said. “I don’t like to see us compared to New
Jersey or Connecticut just because we’re bordering states. When you
look at what we have to offer, I think Midwest states like
Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are more fair comparisons.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *