I’m happy to announce my appointment to serve a third consecutive term as majority chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee. Interacting with the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) are the primary responsibilities of the committee, which will receive an annual report from each commission in early February and meet publicly to review that report.
I’m especially looking forward to working with some new faces. Tim Schaeffer, who became PFBC executive director late last year, is someone I’ve known for quite a while. He is a great choice to succeed John Arway, and the reviews on what he has done in a short time are good. I’m also anxious to meet and work with my counterpart, state Sen. Dan Laughlin from Erie County, majority chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee. Establishing relationships with legislators on both sides of the aisle and all corners of the state is something we should all strive to do.
In chairing the committee again, I look forward to getting back to work and supporting the best interests of the many hunters and anglers across the state. As for the work to be done, we unfortunately have some important leftover legislation from the 2017-18 session that needs addressed as soon as possible.
My focus will again be leading the effort to allow the PGC and PFBC to set their own license fee rates. Last session, the individual bills both passed overwhelmingly in the Senate but lacked the votes in our committee. I’m planning to take another swing at this because of my strong feeling that the commissions both need and deserve the ability to set their own fees for the benefit of outdoor enthusiasts for whom they provide much-needed services.
As a legislator and sportsman, I can see both sides of the funding debate. Those of us who enjoy the outdoors have it pretty good in Pennsylvania. The last time hunting license prices were raised was 1999. The last fishing license increase occurred in 2005. Only Hawaii’s hunting license fees are lower than our $25 price tag and Pennsylvania’s fishing license fee of $22.70 is in line with our neighboring states.
At this point, the necessary legislation has not been introduced. These bills have been introduced in the Senate in previous sessions. I’m anticipating the same in 2019-20 and am meeting with Chairman Laughlin to discuss that.
When the PGC and PFBC come before the committee next month, they will no doubt renew their desire to set their own fees. There will surely also be a threat to discontinue programs if that doesn’t happen. It is possible the legislation will be in place by that time. An item of even greater importance that hangs over us is the PGC audit being conducted by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. He is looking into the commission’s finances, purchases of property and buildings and adherence to proper procedures for wildlife management from 2014 through 2017. The results of that audit are necessary for us to proceed with any corresponding legislation.
I recently saw a comment that “No branch, agency or public office, or any organization that receives public funding, should be exempt from this type of scrutiny.” To quote the PGC website, “Funded primarily by hunting and furtaker license sales; State Game Lands timber, mineral, and oil/gas revenues; and a federal excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition; the Commission is almost entirely supported by hunters and trappers, or assets that have been procured with license dollars. The commission does not receive state General Fund appropriations. More than half its annual revenue comes from license sales, a relatively fixed income source.”
Likewise, the PFBC receives no Pennsylvania tax revenue for its programs. Financial support comes from fishing licenses and fees, federal funds obtained from taxes on fishing-related items, boat registration/titling fees, refunds of liquid fuels taxes on gas used by motorboats and federal aid.
This is not the first time I’ve used this space to pound the pavement on behalf of the PGC and PFBC. I’m hoping it is the last time. Taxpayers have a right to question how their money is being spent. Problem is, this situation involves no tax dollars. Hunting and fishing are self-sustaining, consumer- driven activities that amount to big business in Pennsylvania. While the forthcoming legislation will no doubt have in place legislative oversight to address possible egregious acts, and maybe even a sunset provision, my trust is in both agencies to act responsibly when given the right to set the price of a license.
They could easily price themselves right out of business. I don’t think they will.
Representative Keith Gillespie
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Scott Little