Increase in license fees?
It’s interesting how cabinet agencies toe the line for the governor who appointed each secretary, even though some agency constituencies may have different ideas.
At the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fish and Wildlife Funding Forum held Nov. 13 in Madison, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp heard from several sporting organizations that they think it is time for the DNR to call for a small increase in license fees.
It used to be that license fees took a small bump upward about every four years to keep up with inflation and needed spending increases, plus larger responsibilities placed upon the agency without additional funds. Though the increases need legislative and gubernatorial approval, requests often start with the agency.
But it has been several years since any licenses were increased in Wisconsin because governors are afraid of anything that smells like an additional tax.
Stepp told the organizations asking for more money that it was her job to do more with less, to do the job with what the Legislature and governor gave the DNR.
There had been talk of plans by sportsmen’s groups to band together to ask the Legislature and governor for a slight increase, as the fish, wildlife and law enforcement budgets of the DNR are based primarily on user funds, primarily hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses and stamps. In addition the federal aid funds (Pittman-Robertson and Dingell Johnson programs provide money that comes from hunter and fishermen purchases of sporting equipment) come from sportsmen and fund management and research activities.
So there is no doubt that sportsmen have funded fish, wildlife and law enforcement programs and normally are willing to continue funding because they realize the necessity for future fish and wildlife resources.
If not sportsmen, who else will provide these funds?
Meanwhile on the same day that Cathy Stepp provided no support to sporting groups, the Department of Transportation also did not want to talk about the need for more funds to keep roads in shape, but at least talked about the issue.
News reports were that leaders were looking at new ways to bring in funds for road projects that might include increasing gasoline taxes.
A member of the Transportation Policy and Finance Commission said that raising the gas tax could be the best way to get more revenues from all drivers.
But Mark Gotlieb, the DOT secretary who was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker, is quoted as saying that no one wants to pay more fees, yet that more money has to come from somewhere.
Both agencies are cabinet agencies and both secretaries serve at the pleasure of the governor. Neither secretary wants to cross swords with the governor who will be recommending their agency’s budget, though the DOT secretary is willing to talk about the need for increased funds and the commission is looking at ways.
Even if increased fees are recommended, the DOT budget already submitted to the governor does not include increased fees. Likewise, the budget requested by the DNR for the next two years does not include increased fees.
Yet DNR has vacant wildlife manager and conservation warden positions. Master planning is behind schedule and there could be deficits in several programs. The increase of sand mining has created a significant new workload for DNR air management staff. Reductions of fish stocking and production facilities are on the front burner.
With the cabinet form of government, we see the secretary of each agency toeing the line of the governor. It’s an open question of whether agency secretaries who should be looking out for their constituencies (in the case of DNR, the sportsmen of this state and future natural resources) should bow to the whims of the governor or should be leaders for the constituencies their agencies serve.
Up until 1995, when Gov. Tommy Thompson got the DNR into the cabinet, the DNR secretaries and Natural Resources Board members set the course that they thought was best for natural resources in Wisconsin, regardless of how the governor felt.