Doyle pitches hike in DNR license fees
Proposal must now pass Joint Finance Committee
By Tim Eisele
Madison — Gov. Jim Doyle delivered his proposed 2005-07 state budget to the Legislature on Feb. 8. He emphasized the "E) word, but it was education, not environment.
If it was environmental items you were waiting to hear about in his budget presentation, there wasn't much.
Doyle's new budget proposes to trim the state payroll by 1,800 jobs, though he would be adding 15 new positions to the DNR to protect groundwater, rivers, and streams. He didn't talk about how many positions would be lost at the DNR, but the budget calls for the agency to lose 86 positions in 2006 and 82 in 2007.
The new budget seeks to ensure that Aztalan State Park will remain open, the battle will continue against of invasive aquatic species, and cuts to parks, trails and visitor centers will be reversed.
"Hunting and conservation groups have asked us for modest fee increases — at most, the cost of a case of beer,) Doyle said. "It will fix an expected $20 million deficit in our fish and wildlife fund, allowing us to hire 30 more wardens, restore fish and pheasant stocking, renew leases on 30,000 acres of public hunting grounds, and guarantee the hunting and fishing legacy that is the birthright of every Wisconsin citizen.)
The governor's budget drew quick responses, primarily along partisan lines.
Sen. Cathy Stepp (R-Sturtevant), who previously served on the Natural Resources Board, said it was time for changes in the DNR, and that she's concerned about a fee hike.
"I am concerned that there may not have been a thorough investigation to raise license fees,) Stepp said. "I've heard from citizens about concerns over the cuts in pheasant stocking. Having served on the board, my concern is that the reason it was getting cut is that it would make the most noise. That always bothers me.)
Stepp disagreed with Doyle, saying she finds it hard to believe that sportsmen are asking for a license fee increase.
As a former NRB member with "a back room view, I know there are plenty of cuts yet to be made in the agency — more on the bureaucratic level.)
Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn), chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said, "The fact that the governor sidestepped the issue of natural resources, his proposal for increases on fees does not bode well for that portion of the budget. He knows that asking for such large increases stretches family dollars too thin.)
Kedzie said he's concerned that "the state will only cater to outdoor elitists and not outdoor enthusiasts, because we are starting to price the average person out of the market. We need performance management, and what we expect to get back for the dollar invested. Now we have programs without goals.)
Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), Senate majority leader, said his constituents who hunt and fish are telling him they're concerned the outdoor sports are being turned into something that only the rich can afford. They do not support increases in license fees, particularly when the value they receive has fallen.
"There is a real question of accountability in this administration with the use of those monies,) he said. "It is fitting that we got this speech on Fat Tuesday, but tomorrow it will be more somber. The voters know that when you are $1.6 billion in debt you cannot borrow or spend your way to prosperity, which is what the governor's message was.)
Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison) said the new budget had no broad initiatives for the environment, but there were several modest positive steps.
"The commitment to protect the Stewardship fund, which has protected over 300,000 acres since I started it in 1990, is a very good step,) Black said. "Republicans have made this a target for cuts the past several years. I'm glad the governor has made this a commitment.)
Black also liked the attack on invasive species, such as Asian carp, which can wreak havoc with the fishery. "It's a modest investment, but it's a start,) he said. "The increase in fees is probably a necessary thing as long as we make sure the money stays in the conservation fund and isn't raided for other purposes. My buddies who hunt and fish are willing to pay more as long as the money will not be diverted to other purposes.) Scott Gunderson (R-Union Grove) said he's hearing mixed reactions from hunters regarding a fee increase.
"I'm still hearing that we want to make sure that our money is being spent properly,) he said. "The agency has to do a better job of letting hunters know their money is going right back into the fish and game account. There seems to be a feeling from some that they're not sure the money is being spent properly.)
Gunderson said one sore point is the increase in the deer license from $20 to $32. He doesn't see much support for that and thinks it will have to be rethought.
For now, Doyle wants a Fiscal Year 2006 (from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2006) budget of $510.8 million (and 2,738 positions) for the DNR, compared to the current FY 2005 budget of $492.4 million (and 2,824 positions).
For FY 2007, he proposed a budget of $517.4 million (and 2,655 positions). The 2006 budget is an increase of 3.7 percent, with the 2007 budget an increase of 1.3 percent.
Here are a few more details:
• Licenses. Doyle wants to increase some fees and create new permits and stamps. The new fees include $32 for a resident deer gun and archery license (previously $20), $20 for a resident fishing license (from $17), and $64 for a resident sports combo license (from $45).
The state pheasant, duck, and trout stamps would increase from $7 to $10, Class A bear license would go from $45 to $49, senior small game license from $8 to $10, resident small game from $16 to $20, and resident wild turkey from $13 to $15.
Other increases were for various fees for commercial fishing licenses. The Great Lakes Commercial Fishing license would increase from $900 to $1,000 and for non-residents from $6,500 to $7,500; fishing guide licenses from $40 to $60; sport trolling for charter captains from $100 to $150; and wholesale fish dealer license from $100 to $250.
Doyle also recommended a duplicate fishing license fee increase from $9 to $10. He'd also allow fees for hunter education courses. These will be $10, with the instructor able to keep $5 and DNR Law Enforcement getting $5 to buy and print materials.
Other changes include a $20 resident hook and line license for sturgeon (currently the tag is free), a $10 ruffed grouse and woodcock stamp, a $10 resident extra turkey tag (nonresidents will pay $15), and a $10 permit for hunting on public lands that are stocked with pheasants (the funds will be earmarked for the Poynette Game Farm).
The resident disabled fishing license would increase from $7 to $10, resident husband and wife fishing license from $29 to $35, and resident senior annual license from $7 to $10.
The cost of the conservation patron's license is unchanged ($140 — it was raised from $110 two years ago), but Doyle's budget plan increased the wildlife damage surcharge from $2 to $4, and increased the damage surcharge on all other licenses from $1 to $2. Hunters will not see any extra cost, but the increased amount will be transferred in an accounting process into the damages account.
Doyle recommended changing the benefits of the junior conservation patron license (the hunting and fishing privileges remain the same but the subscription to Natural Resources magazine and state park sticker were removed), and specified that it was available to youngsters age 12 through 17.
The budget eventually will emerge as a compromise from the Joint Finance Committee. Then Doyle will sign a compromise bill, with the ability to veto sections.
Although sportsmen buy licenses and pay fees that are put in segregated accounts, the DNR doesn't have access to that money. The Legislature and governor, through the budget, must appropriate that money and specify how it will be used.
George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation (WWF), said he was happy to see that some of the previous reductions, such as pheasant stocking, fish stocking, and habitat work, have been restored in the proposed budget.
"The governor is seeing that the 30 warden vacancies will be filled and he restored a proposed cut of seven fish and wildlife research biologists, which are all very critical,) Meyer said. "He also specified the $4 million of funding to provide public access onto private lands for hunting purposes; that is a critical thing. It will be permanent and increase public access over the years.)
Meyer also said the WWF was pleased that Doyle restored some proposed cuts to state parks, kept the MacKenzie center in Poynette open, and funded Stewardship purchases.
"Overall it's a good conservation budget,) he said.
One part of the governor's budget that raised eyebrows is that he has taken money from the transportation fund and from a fund collected from electric utility rate payers to be used for energy conservation programs, to help balance the state budget.
Could he be raising hunting and fishing licenses to pay for other state programs this biennium, or could another governor, some day, dip into the license coffers to pay for state highways, prisons or other programs?
That's not likely, Meyer said. Federal programs funded by excise taxes on sporting arms, ammunition and fishing equipment are distributed to states for conservation programs.
The law specifies that state agencies cannot use that money for non-conservation programs, and the state can't begin funding other programs with license revenues and then try to use the federal monies for its conservation programs.
"These would be known as diversions of hunting and fishing license fees,) said Meyer, who worked for the DNR as a lawyer and as DNR secretary. "If the governor or Legislature took license dollars out of those segregated accounts for non-conservation purposes, they would have to pay back all the federal dollars Wisconsin has received and that would be millions of dollars.)
Meyer said diversion of money has occurred in several states and those states had to put that money back into the funds.
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See..When I read your heading I thought the State was going to impose a hiking license fee. Which would make PERFECT sence to me. As it stands now hunters are the only ones who pay for the right to use public lands. We pay for licenses,hunter education and are taxed on our weapons which in turn funds many if not all of the programs you mentioned.
Now in my world! There should be hiking seasons, they would be just the opposite of hunting seasons so the two do not overlap, besides who wants to hike in the winter besides a hunter. This way the State could charge the hikers for a licence too. (lots of money there) The State could also imply mandatory hiker safety classes which would consist of, building emergency shelters,using a compass,applying a splint ect. Ofcoarse, the hiker would have to pay the state to take this 1-2 day coarse. There could be fines for hiking out of season, hiking unsafely, littering, wrong color clothing, ect. The State could inturn put a tax on day packs,walking sticks,tents,sleeping bags,dehidrated food,Mt climbing equiptment, the list goes on.
I live in NY next to the Shawangunk Mts and cannot tell you how many times a hiker has walked passed me during hunting season. That's life but my theory is if I have to pay to be here so should you. The big kick in the a@@ is these are the guy's who complain about US.
Well.....I think it is a good way for Wisconson and any other State to raise funds and leave the hunters alone for once.
...licenses $12 bucks is "going to hurt already financially strapped families"? Gimme a break. All that means is the hunters won't be able to buy one extra 12 pack! It may not be the most politically correct move. But I GUARANTEE you won't be getting any deer hunters - quitting hunting due to the $12 dollar increase...