SNYDER: Here's a bill that fishermen need to get behind
- Saturday is the opening day of trout season in the York region.
- The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is the agency that gives us our fishing opportunities.
- The commission is experiencing financial woes, but a Senate bill could alleviate those problems.
Sportsmen, we’ve got some work to do.
Saturday is a big day for the area’s anglers. It’s the first day of the region’s trout season. Thousands of anglers will line local streams and creeks in hopes of landing their limit of feisty trout.
But at the same time we’re enjoying a fishery that many states could only dream of, the agency responsible for the state's waterways faces some stiff headwinds. That’s right, the folks that give us some fantastic fishing — that nearly everybody can access — need our help.
You’ve probably heard the state’s Fish and Boat Commission has some fiscal problems. Rising costs and a swelling pension obligation have far outpaced the agency’s revenue growth. In other words, costs are rising far faster than income.
That’s a big problem — especially if you’re fond of the state’s many, many fishing and boating opportunities.
What’s most interesting, though, is there’s a peculiar problem that’s long plagued the agency. Sure, it sets its own budget and is responsible for generating its own revenues, but it has no control over the fees it charges.
It’s crazy, but if the commission (an entirely independent agency) wants to raise the cost of a boat registration or a fishing license, it has to first ask the politicians in Harrisburg for permission. That’s a tall task.
Really, the situation is not all that different than if a local store had to ask lawmakers for permission to raise its prices. Remember, the Fish and Boat Commission doesn’t receive a cent of taxpayer money. The state’s treasury doesn’t write a single check to the critical agency. Yet, if it wants to boost prices, it needs a majority vote from Harrisburg.
If you’ve paid attention, you know getting that vote isn’t easy. Historically, it’s about a once-in-a-decade feat. The last license increase was in 2015.
Again, imagine if your local grocery store raised its prices just once every 10 years. Most of the time, you’d be happy … but walk the aisle during that 10th year and your jaw will drop. Prices will have soared.
That’s the problem the Fish and Boat Commission faces. For a decade, prices don’t change and, when they suddenly do, anglers’ wallets are hit hard.
In fact, the price increases are often steep enough to force a lot of folks out of the game. Instead of paying the higher prices, they simply stop fishing. They don’t buy a license and the agency loses an angler … and the sale of a license.
Historically, these once-a-decade spikes in license fees have forced enough anglers out of the sport that the agency actually ends up pulling in fewer dollars in the year (or even years) after a license increase.
The current system is broken. It doesn’t work. But there is a solution. And that’s where you come in.
Senate Bill 1168, which is currently making its way through Harrisburg, will allow the Fish and Boat Commission to finally set its own fees. It would eliminate the eye-popping once-a-decade price hikes — replacing them with gradual increases that much better match overall inflation and changing demographics.
In other words, the bill would treat the agency just like any other independent business, giving it the power to control its revenues.
For folks worried about giving the commission a slew of new power, there are still plenty of checks and balances. The process is quite transparent. It calls for a public comment period, thorough reporting to Harrisburg and, just in case, the bill would need to be renewed in three years. This “sunset” provision ensures the idea can be reversed if it doesn’t work.
As sportsmen who take ample advantage of the work done by the Fish and Boat Commission, we must ensure this bill passes. Call, write or email your local representative. Tell them you support Senate Bill 1168 … and tell them why.
Saturday is a big day, but bigger days lie ahead if we can get this bill passed.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.