By PETER JACKSON | Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania Game Commission unveiled a plan to increase the cost of hunting licenses for the first time in 16 years.
The proposal, which will require legislative approval, would boost an adult resident hunting license by $20 over five years. The current $19 fee would increase by $10 in the first year and then by $5 in the third and fifth years, pushing the total cost to $39.
Fees for most other resident and non-resident licenses also would increase over the same timetable. The price of an adult non-resident license would double to $200, but the cost of junior resident and non-resident licenses and senior resident licenses would not change.
The commission relies on license fee revenue for nearly 40 percent of its operating budget. Personnel expenses, including salaries, health care and pension benefits, have more than doubled since the last fee increase in 1999 to a projected $82 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year, said spokesman Travis Lau.
In the fiscal year that ended in June, the agency sold 943,884 hunting licenses, Lau said.
The agency, which does not receive tax revenue from the state budget, also receives money from federal aid reimbursements and from the sale of oil, gas, coal and timber on the nearly 1.5 million acres of state game land that it manages.
Unless additional revenue is approved, Lau said, the commission may have to cut back on personnel and programs.
The proposal got a mixed reception from sportsmen’s groups, whose members would be directly affected.
John Kline, the lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said the group has supported increases in the past and that club delegates will discuss the latest plan at a September meeting. The federation comprises 220 clubs with about 71,000 members, he said.
“We pay our own way and we’re very proud of that,” he said. “The support for an increase is there.”
Randy Santucci, president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, expressed ambivalence about the proposed fee increase.
Santucci, whose group claims more than 3,000 individual members, said he is frustrated by what he sees as the slow pace of the commission’s efforts to expand the deer herd, particularly in the state’s northern tier, while embracing biodiversity policies that draw predators that threaten game species.
“I think they have to get back to basics in concern for sportsmen and game,” he said of the commission.