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$$ New MI License Package

Started by Dan, January 07, 2007, 01:44:53 PM

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Dan

Well after Christmas a discussion of spending more money probably isn't what people want to take part in, but it appears that we need to consider getting behind the DNRs new Michigan Fishing and Hunting License Package. More money via licenses will help meet immediate needs. Comparative data shows that MI in relation to its neighbors spends the least on staff etc. During the Engler era the DNR was told it could not raise license fees despite a need to correct for inflation. In 96-97 23.3% of the DNRs budget came from the General Fund. O6-07 finds 8% of the of the DNR budget supported by the general fund. Combine this with a 21% drop in license purchases and it has the DNR about to venture into the red budget wise. They would like to see groups press the legistature for budget acts like the one found in Missouri. There they passed a referendum whereby the DNR got 1/8 of one percent of the sales tax. That makes a huge difference! It also takes some of the tax burden off citizens of Michigan by having visitors to the state paying sales tax which a very small part then goes to support the DNR. In the short run, we need to bite the bullet in order for the DNR to stay afloat and support their license increases. If you factor in inflation, they are not as big as they first seem. Another thing we can do is to buy the $2 optional fishing license for kids under 18. When we do this the feds add $8 bucks that goes directly to the DNRs budget. Didn't know that and when I heard it, it sounded like a no brainer.

Just a side bar, the 21% drop in license fees really underscores the need to involve more youth. At the Ludington Rigional Fisheries Workshop, which was attended by a large number of charter boat captains, it wasn't too hard to note that there was not one captain that didn't have gray hair. Only a couple young guns there. We need those younger folks involvement and energy in our efforts to continue to be stewards of the outdoors and outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.
"Not in the clamor of the crowded streets nor in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but within oneself lies victory or defeat."

Langer

Q&A WITH DIRECTOR REBECCA HUMPHRIES: DNR problems and solutions
January 7, 2007

BY ERIC SHARP

FREE PRESS OUTDOORS WRITER

A recent proposal to double hunting and fishing fees for most hunters and anglers and increase them by three or four times for senior citizens has drawn howls of outrage from Michigan sportsmen.

Yet the Department of Natural Resources says that if it doesn't get significant increases, it will face an $8-million deficit in 2008 and a $40-million deficit by 2010.

The Free Press recently talked with DNR director Rebecca Humphries about the agency's immediate fiscal problems and the need for a long-term solution that might mean changing the way the DNR is funded.


QUESTION: Are you getting a lot of public feedback about the proposed increases?

ANSWER: We're not hearing a lot directly, but we know that legislators and the media are. Most of what we are hearing is from senior citizens and from people who say the increases are too big.

We expected that. But the present senior discount (half-price for most licenses) used to be supported by $4 million in general fund money. Now that has been taken away from us. (The DNR proposal) has left a lot of room for bill sponsors (in the legislature) to be heroes.


Q: Many hunters and anglers say they have never had anyone check their licenses in the field, and that they'd like to see more conservation officers. Will that happen if you get license fee increases?

A: It's true that people kind of measure the department by the number of green shirts they see out there. We want to hire more (COs), but it's a question of fiscal resources and time. A fiscal year ago, we had a $1-million general fund cut in CO money. We can't work COs just on restricted funds. They get called on for general law enforcement, too (often backing up local sheriff's departments and the state police). And we tend to lose them to retirement in groups because we hire them in waves. If we start a new class next week, that means 25 years from now you'll have 18 COs walking out the door.


Q: How can you prepare a budget when you don't know what the legislature will do?

A: It all depends if we get something or nothing. We have to prepare a 2008 budget based on the revenues we're getting now. But we also need to come up with a package for the next three years. If we could get an increase that would allow us to make up that $8 million (shortfall) for 2008, we could at least stay even. But by 2010 it goes up to $40 million. That would mean some big changes in services.


Q: Have you given thought to offering people a deal if they buy multiple licenses, as some other states do?

A: Definitely. The average (DNR customer) buys 2.3 licenses. The department needs the ability to be able to discount licenses. We could offer different packages, where the more you buy, the more you save. Buying a package also rekindles the idea that they're not just buying a hunting or fishing license, they're contributing to conservation.


Q: Some people say that if the DNR doubles license fees, they'll stop hunting and fishing, or at least stop buying licenses.

A: We don't want to lose a single hunter or angler, but we know we'd lose some. We factored in a (5%) decline in hunting license sales.


Q: A lot of hunters and anglers seem to believe that their license fees are used to pay for things that don't have much to do with hunting and fishing. What do you say to them?

A: They're just misinformed. We can't do that. It would put our federal (revenue sharing) dollars at risk. For example, when our conservation officers do snowmobile or ORV enforcement, they can't charge it to game and fish funds. We are very careful to keep our funding moneys separate. The federal auditors really hone in on our game and fish (expenditures).


Q: Can you do more to cut costs within the DNR?

A: We have already done that. We've sent out notes to employees asking for ideas to cut costs and increase efficiency, and they have responded. We also have about (12%) fewer employees than we did 10 years ago. But you can only pinch pennies so far.


Q: Other states, Minnesota, for example, provide most of their DNR funding through a dedicated sales tax or other general fund revenues. Have you considered seeking something like that for the Michigan DNR?

A: We obviously need to think long term about new funding sources. We have tremendous public land resources. (Michigan has more public lands than any other state east of the Mississippi.) States that don't have much public lands don't have the responsibility of maintaining them. On Feb. 7, we're holding a kind of conservation summit with all of the major (constituent) groups. We're going to try to come up with a unified approach to finding a way to replace (reductions in) the general fund.


Q: Many deer hunters, especially those who hunt in the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula, say they won't support license fee increases unless the DNR increases the herd where it has been brought down deliberately to reduce crop and forest damage. What do you say to them?

A: We know that deer hunting runs the show in this state. We need to hold the herd where it is or even bring it up a bit (in the northern Lower and UP). But we don't want it to jump up too fast. This year we did see a 2% increase in deer licenses.


Q: The proposed increases would keep the DNR solvent for the next few years, but they don't address the long-term problem. Any ideas?

A: When it comes to mobilizing support for a long-term replacement for the general fund (budget share), we really missed the boat about 30 years ago, when the DNR's mission broadened but the funding didn't. We want to keep public land open for the public to walk on (for free), but when we talk about other uses that require specialized effort or infrastructure, people should pay for it.

We have saved money by doing things like getting (conservation) groups to put food plots on public land and put up waterfowl signs, and I think we can do more with volunteer efforts like that. A good question is how do we get people to become real conservationists, to realize that there's more to it than buying a hunting or fishing license?

We are also looking at things like selling advertising in the hunting and fishing guides. And Parks and Recreation has been very successful in extending the camping season. A couple of years ago we had more campers on our sites in October and July. But you can only do so much with that. The parks are so full in summer that the only way to increase the number of campers is to extend the season.


Q: Have you started the legislative process to get the license fee increases?

A: We don't even have a bill drafter assigned to it yet. We know it may be tough to find sponsors. The National Rifle Association so far doesn't support the fee increases, and some people could make it an election issue in 2008. But Michigan United Conservation Clubs does support the increases, so the NRA (opposition) kind of caught us by surprise.

We've got to get the message out and do road shows with the public and legislature. We need to build support for the increases and do a better job of explaining why they are needed.

Contact ERIC SHARP at 313-222-2511 or esharp@freepress.com.
Wayne County Bass Anglers
-2008 President

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