Republican plan to raid stamp funds doesn't make sense
Written by Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune   
Sunday, 08 May 2005 10:31
Be ticked off 103,402 Lake Michigan trout and salmon anglers.? Stamp your feet 65,431 Wisconsin waterfowlers.? Scream and holler 96,507 turkey hunters. You're about to be robbed.

Calling the police won't provide any help because these days the vandals are writing their own laws.

Yes, that's right. The sleight of hand characters are your neighborhood Republicans on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.

Rather than approve an increase in the deer hunting license fee from $20 to $32 as requested by the Department of Natural Resources and supported by the state's major organized hunting organizations, the GOP-controlled committee agreed to a $24 fee.

The Republicans reluctantly opted to boost the deer license fee for the first time in nine years knowing the $4 increase would leave the agency underfunded.

And they did so by thumbing their noses once again at the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin Deer Hunters Inc., and other state outdoor groups who understand and support the need for a significant increase in the deer hunting license fee.

To compensate for some of the revenue shortage resulting from their action, all 12 Republicans on the 16-member committee voted to transfer $720,000 from the sale of Great Lakes trout and salmon stamps, $411,000 from the sale of state waterfowl stamps and $222,000 from the sale of wild turkey stamps to the DNR's general fish and wildlife account during the next two years.

Today, that would be illegal.

After all, the Legislature created each of those stamps decades ago, requiring Great Lakes anglers, waterfowl and turkey hunters to purchase them in addition to a regular fishing or hunting license.

The targeted anglers and hunters willingly agreed to the surcharge - and even sought to have it imposed - because the legislation specified funds from the stamps would be used solely for the purpose of developing, managing and promoting the species involved.

But the Joint Finance Committee's action, if approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle, would be part of a new state budget bill and - voila - new legislation supersedes previous legislation.

If the current stance is adopted, it means Great Lakes anglers, waterfowlers and turkey hunters would continue to be levied an additional premium.

Despite its big game status, deer hunting isn't even close to being the most expensive license in Wisconsin.

All three accounts targeted by the GOP already pay fees equal to or greater than deer hunters.

Duck and goose hunters are required to pay $16 for a small game license, plus a $15 federal migratory bird stamp and a $7 state migratory bird stamp for a total of $38. (And there might be an additional $3 charge for a goose hunting permit application.)
One reason goose and duck hunters willingly shell out hefty license fees for their favorite fall pursuit is their belief stamp funds are designated to preserve wetland habitat so vital for the future of waterfowl.

Spring turkey hunters pay $13 for a license, plus $5.25 for a turkey stamp and $3 for a permit application. There is an additional $13 license and $3 permit application for hunting turkey in the fall. Turkey hunters asked for the stamp as a means to ensure the perpetuation of gobblers on the landscape.

Great Lakes anglers must purchase a general fishing license for $17, plus a Great Lakes Trout and Salmon Stamp for $10. That's a total of $27, with the expectation that the state will continue a vigorous trout and salmon program.

The Republican maneuver "sets a terrible precedent," said George Meyer, former DNR secretary and current executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. "There is no doubt in my mind the Legislature will use this as a precedent to do it again."
He believes the only reason the Joint Finance Committee didn't conduct a similar raid on the inland trout stamp and pheasant stamp is the fact those accounts contain considerably less money.

Wisconsin Republicans shouldn't be and needn't be in this irritating situation.

If the deer hunting license fee had been increased, as requested by the DNR and endorsed by hunting groups, there would be no need for the GOP to deal from the bottom of the deck.

Even a $25 deer license - $1 more than the current Republican proposal - would replace the funds being removed from the stamp accounts.

That makes the GOP move even more illogical and irresponsible.
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