WA Commission To Look At Fee Proposals, Long-term Funding Plan

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission members will hear in the coming days how WDFW staffers want to balance a looming budget shortfall now estimated at $32.9 million as well as put the agency on a more stable financial footing in the future.

While anglers and hunters will focus on the proposed fee increases — 12 to 15 percent across-the-board hikes or a $10 surcharge — what’s notable is that sportsman dollars would become supplementary to a wider foundation of funding, a “transformative concept.”

“The goal is for 50% or more of the Department’s funding to come from a sustainable, reliable, broad?based revenue source. Currently approximately 18% of the Department’s spending is from the general fund,” reads a recommendation from WDFW’s draft long-term funding presentation to the citizen panel.

It came out of the multistakeholder Budget and Policy Advisory group and is described as a “first step” and “set of ideas” to build upon.

But as 2019-21 legislative proposals are drawn up, the agency’s $65.4 million request does lean more heavily on the General Fund than in the past — approximately two-thirds GF-S, one third user fees.

Figures posted for the commission meeting show that the one-time annual surcharge bowhunters, clam diggers and salmon moochers would pay if lawmakers approve next year would raise $20.3 million, the 15 percent hike $18.9 million and 12 percent $16.1 million.

With the failed Wild Futures Initiative in 2016-17, sportsmen bore the entire lift of the package, and coming out of the Great Recession in 2010 one top manager told me WDFW was “making a concerted effort to make itself less dependent on the General Fund.”

The agency’s funding issues are “structural” in that state appropriations, license revenues and ESA requirements are not keeping up with the costs. Last year, after giving it a $10 milllion bump from the General Fund instead of approving Wild Futures, the legislature ordered WDFW to undergo reviews and perform a zero-based budget analysis. It has also identified several million in cuts and efficiencies.

The $65.4 million would go towards maintaining and enhancing fishing and hunting, with $45.5 million from the General Fund, $16.4 million from the license-supported Wildlife Account and $3.6 from the Columbia River endorsement, which needs to be renewed by lawmakers.

After the proposed fee increases were revealed last month, a survey was posted online, and as of the end of July, 556 people had responded.

According to WDFW, 75 percent said that the agency should be supported by the General Fund and that “general taxes should contribute more.”

Other results showed:

• 48% were “very unlikely” to support a fee increase
• 43% prefer across-the-board fee increase while 47% prefer the surcharge
• 62% supportive if no fees, pursue GF-S request

The survey is still up, and you can also comment on them in person this Thursday in Olympia when the commission convenes. Public testimony will be taken during presentations on the proposed 2019-21 operating budget.

The meeting continues Friday with the potential for commission action later in the afternoon.

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