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Legislature would rather pursue vendetta than look out for outdoorsmen

Late last year, faced with a cash-flow shortage it can not rectify, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission announced a difficult choice: It would be forced to close hatcheries, and reduce by nearly a quarter million the number of trout stocked in state streams.

Because a few state legislators somehow perceived this as a personal threat, they have vowed not to let the agency — which does not receive state tax dollars, but is funded by the fees it charges — increase its fees to an amount that would allow it to operate the same way it does now.

More than a year ago in this space we noted the need for state government to allow the Fish and Boat Commission — and the Pennsylvania Game Commission — to have some say in license costs, which have not been raised for 10 years for fishing, and 20 for hunting.

But when the executive director of the Fish and Boat Commission calls for the painful but necessary closure of facilities his agency can’t afford — one of which is in Juniata County — lawmakers choose not to fix the problem, but instead to punch anglers in the face.

As reported by the Associated Press in an article that appeared on Thursday’s Outdoors page, the legislature is more focused on ousting the head of the agency than allowing it to pay its bills — even though it’s not their money.

“‘Even if the cure for cancer was within that licensing bill, I don’t think there would be the motivation for the members of the committee or the House to pass it,’ said House Game and Fisheries Chair Keith Gillespie (R-York),” the AP reported.

“He and his counterpart in the Senate both said they will pass the fishing bill only if they can pass a bill to oust (commission executive director John) Arway first. Thus, what seemed to be a quest for a simple fee increase — $6 the first year and 3 percent annually over the next four years — has fallen prey to Harrisburg dysfunction,” the article stated.

Apparently, legislative egos are more sensitive than the fingerlings that end up in state streams each spring.

We said this a year ago and it’s just as relevant now:

It’s time for the Legislature to act in the best interest of hunters, fishermen and these non-taxpayer funded agencies, allowing them to raise their fees to a reasonable level and then set future increases based on an inflationary index — just like the pay for the legislators themselves.

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