Now that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) hunting and fishing license fee proposal is a week old and the dust has begun to settle, we’re beginning to hear and see reactions to its details. While it remains our opinion that the initial reaction to the proposal was largely positive, we must disclose we base this conclusion on our own unscientific, largely anecdotal survey conducted by eavesdropping at numerous northern Michigan “Chatter Box” cafes. There seems to be general agreement that a license fee increase is overdue, but as is true with most “revenue enhancement” proposals, people prefer to have the bulk of the increased costs borne by “the other guy.” You know the one. That nameless, faceless individual that may be our friend, neighbor, or both – all we know is, he’s not me.
The recurring theme being discussed in these circles is that everyone wants the funds to be used for “boots and badges” on the ground. While most hunters and anglers understand that there will always be an administrative component and other centralized functions of the MDNR, it doesn’t mean that they have to like it when some funding needs to go to “those guys in Lansing.”
In terms of the plan details, some concerns are being expressed that too much of the cost is being absorbed by the deer hunters, while at the same time a new all-inclusive fishing license actually represents a lower price point than does the current general fishing license after the current “All Species” option is added in. Some business operators in the hunting/angling trade group have also expressed concerns that the percentage increases in the non-resident license packages may adversely impact the recent gains which have been realized in that portion of the travel/tourism economy.
Although it remains appropriate for these and other concerns to be expressed and conveyed, we should not allow these criticisms to grow to a point where our State legislators are only hearing comments which sound a lot like opposition to the overall proposal.
Should that happen, we would run the risk of not achieving the overarching goal of replacing revenue which has eroded over the past 17+ years.
How do we know the money will be spent as intended?
In addition to the series of strategic plans which were discussed in our February 7 column, a very public commitment has been made by MDNR Director Creagh and all of the Division Chiefs to the Fish and Game Outcomes document dated February 8, 2013 which can be viewed here (DNR Fees – FG Outcomes). This represents a summary of the resource allocation priorities which are anticipated as a result of what is projected to be $18 million in new revenue. Approximately 73% of the total revenue is being committed to law enforcement, fish and wildlife programs and field personnel. Within that small portion being earmarked for Finance and Operations, even that includes a commitment for increased hours of operation at service centers which are open to the public.
A heavy emphasis is also being placed on technical assistance and supplemental funding for partner projects which benefit both fisheries and wildlife habitat. This is in recognition of the increasing role that non-profit organizations, clubs and volunteers play in fisheries and wildlife habitat restoration and enhancement.
What we know for sure.
- Although some may (and have) suggested that we are blindly supporting the license fee restructuring proposal, we would counter that by saying that the risks associated with doing nothing are far greater than are those associated with the possible misallocation of new revenue. Here’s what we know for sure:
- There hasn’t been an increase in fish and game license fees since 1996.
- Even if this proposal is approved, the soonest the new license structure could go into effect would be 2014, and the economic benefits from this increased revenue stream would not be fully realized until F/Y 2015.
- Based upon the national consumer price index (CPI), between 1996 and 2013 the buying power of the U.S. dollar declined by nearly one-third.
- The MDNR budget not only receives less general fund support than it did in 1996, it is now required to absorb numerous expense line-items which had historically been funded through other means.
- Based upon the estimated Game and Fish fund revenue for the current budget year, even if the projected $18 million in new revenue is achieved it does not fully offset the decline in CPI-based purchasing power which has occurred since 1996.
- If no new means of funding is identified, there will be further MDNR staff reductions, more facility closures and reduced institutional capacity.
- Absent an increase in license revenue, Michigan will fall further behind other states in its eligibility for Pittman-Roberston Act funding at a time when the pool of available PR dollars is increasing at an accelerating rate.
Given the alternatives, it would seem to be in our collective best interests to help shape the details of the proposal while at the same time voicing our strong and broad support of its overall goals.
To view more of the relevant proposal documents, click here.