Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Bills could damage PGC, DCNR budgets

Harrisburg — Two proposals meant to boost funding for rural communities would negatively impact opportunities for hunters, anglers and others who use the outdoors, two state agencies believe.

State Rep. Martin Causer, a Potter County Republican, is sponsor of two bills that would amend what’s known as the Forest Reserves Municipal Relief Law.  

One is House Bill 344. It would increase “the payment in lieu of taxes paid to local municipalities, school districts and counties that host state land under the control of (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) and the PA Game Commission,” he told fellow lawmakers in a sponsorship memo.

Under current law, municipalities, school districts and counties equally share $3.60 per acre collected on state lands, he said. His bill would increase the amount collected to $6 per acre.

“This legislation is important for areas of the commonwealth that have large tracts of state-owned land that are exempt from taxation and therefore have a significantly limited tax base,” Causer wrote.

But that would have impacts, warns the Game Commission in particular.

According to spokesman Travis Lau, the commission pays $1.20 per acre of land it owns now. The state gaming control board pays $2.40 per acre.

“The way I understand this legislation, only the Game Commission’s share would increase. The gaming control board would continue to pay $2.40. Our costs would go from $1.20 to $3.60,” Lau said.

Right now, in the current fiscal year, the commission’s total in-lieu-of-taxes payment totals about $1.8 million. If House Bill 344 is approved, that would increase to about $5.4 million.

A license fee increase – something the commission hasn’t had since 1999 – would help offset that, if lawmakers approved one. If no fee hike accompanies the increase in in-lieu-of-taxes, cutbacks will almost assuredly result, he said.

“This would cause a significant reduction in overall programs being funded. Major cuts or elimination of programs would be inevitable, and programs such as pheasant stockings, habitat-improvement projects, and land acquisition could be affected,” Lau said.

Causer’s other bill, House Bill 343, is meanwhile likewise intended to benefit those parts of the state with lots of public land.

It calls for taking 20 percent of the total revenue collected from the sale of timber, gas and oil on state-owned lands – excepting state game lands – and depositing it into a “restricted fund for disbursement to local governments across the commonwealth proportionally based on the number of acres of state land in each municipality, school district and county,” Causer told fellow lawmakers in a memo.

“This legislation is similar to federal law that provides revenue to local governments from the sale of timber on the National Forest,” he said.

It’s needed in rural counties, he added.

“State agencies do pay a small payment in lieu of taxes to the local municipalities, school districts and counties. However, the state agencies are obtaining significant revenue from the sale of timber, oil and natural gas from these properties, and no revenue from the sale of these resources is coming back to the struggling local municipalities,” Causer wrote.

“The local governments where the state land is located are restricted from future economic development and continually struggle with the limited tax base.”

Gov. Tom Wolfe has issued a moratorium on new gas and oil leases on state forest land, said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spokeswoman Chris Novak. But that doesn’t impact existing leases; those operations can continue, she said.

They bring the department a lot of money: $147 million in oil and gas revenues in fiscal 2013-14, and $25.9 million in timber, according to state figures.

Taking 20 percent of that would have repercussions, said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spokesman Terry Brady. Specifically, the agency would expect to lose about $29 million annually, he said. That would prompt “severe service and staff cutbacks,” he added.

“As the department is heavily dependent upon these two revenue streams, losing 20 percent would have a significant impact on the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission,” he said.

Both of Causer’s bills have been referred to the House of Representatives environmental resources and energy committee for review.

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