Battle over alternative funding just beginning
It seems as though the battle is just beginning.
Nine members of the House Game and Fisheries Committee traveled to Bradford, McKean County, Thursday night to hear about a potential merger of the Pennsylvania Game and Fish and Boat commissions.
It was the last of the five such hearings to be held. All that remains to be done is for the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to issue its report on the feasibility of a merger. That’s due no later than Nov. 30.
What was clear Thursday night, though, was that — regardless of that deadline, and whether the agencies are merged — the fight to secure them some alternative source of funding is just getting started.
Thursday, representatives from both agencies — at the direction of committee chairman Bruce Smith, a York Republican — testified about their need for some source of revenue other than hunting and fishing license dollars.
Dennis Guise, deputy executive director of the PF&BC, said that providing the commissions with some source of funding, primarily for infrastructure needs, is the most critical issue facing fish and wildlife management in Pennsylvania today.
He also said that it is a challenge that’s not being met. A 1999 report by the Izaak Walton League of America ranked Pennsylvania 47th in the nation in its long-term commitment to fish and wildlife conservation.
“So what’s the bottom lineâ¢ No mater how Pennsylvania organizes its fish, wildlife and boating agencies, we need to develop and implement alternative sources of revenue,” Guise said.
Carl Roe, director of administrative services for the PGC, agreed.
He noted that the PGC is working on several initiatives designed to generate more revenue. The agency plans to create a Game Commission Foundation, for example, that could seek out money from large donors.
None of the commission’s ideas, however, are expected to generate enough money to fund its mission in an era of declining license revenues, he said.
“The bottom line is that additional funding is required to provide the current level of service into the future,” he said.
The sportsmen who testified at Thursday’s hearing — representing the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League, Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Pennsylvania Pistol and Rifle Association, and United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania — agreed with Guise and Roe. None supported a merger, but all asked for more money.
“Above all, alternative funding is the issue. Not a merger,” said Mike Maranche, of the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s league.
“The truth is, these agencies need more money to do what Pennsylvania has always done, which is lead this nation in conservation efforts,” said Ed Wentzler, of the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania.
Ted Onufrak, of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said there’s plenty of evidence to show people support the idea of helping fund the two commissions in new ways. Sportsmen perhaps only need to make that more clear.
“We just need to turn it up a notch,” Onufrak said.
The problem is where to get any new money and what getting it will mean to the agencies.
State Rep. Jim Lynch, a Warren County Republican, spoke in favor of finding new money for the two agencies, while making sure they remain as independent as they are now.
But State Rep. Martin Causer, a Potter County Republican, said that if the state agrees to help fund something like wildlife management, he said he would expect legislators to be represented on the PGC board.
Such differences of opinion among legislators are a hint of the “implications” that will accompany any debate about alternative funding for the two commissions, Smith said.
“As always, there are two sides to every story, and I think we saw a good example of that tonight,” he said.