Hunting, fishing fee increase initiative stalled at State Capitol

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

A hunting and fishing fee increase initiative that drew former Minnesota Vikings’ coaching great Bud Grant to the State Capitol might be stalled.

Former Minnesota Vikings' coach Bud Grant recently appeared at the State Capitol to push for proposed hunting and fishing license fee increases. Sitting next to Grant is Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

The Republican Senate today (April 17) on a 27 to 39 vote rejected an amendment to the Senate game and fish bill that included the license fee increases.

Over in the House, Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, had looked to bringing his hunting and fishing fee increase bill to a game and fish conference committee with the Senate to work out the details of the proposed license fee increases.

But now Hackbarth wonders whether that can be done.

“The Senate today took a position against it (fee increases), and a pretty big one,” said Hackbarth, speaking off the House floor.

“It’s going to be hard to bring it back,” he said.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials are concerned that the state game and fish fund, a wellspring of funding for the DNR, is expected to show a deficit by July of 2013.

More than half of the agency’s game and fish fund revenues, which totaled about $94 million in 2011, come from hunting and fishing license sales.

In addition to Grant, many outdoor and environment groups have  lobbied in support of fee increases.

The last time a general hunting and fishing license fee increase took place was in 2000.

In his bill, Hackbarth looks to increasing fees on nonresident hunting and fishing license.

“I think it’s important nonresidents pay more,” said Hackbarth.

Hackbarth, in analyzing the Senate amendment vote, sees work for Democratic Gov Mark Dayton.

“If Governor Dayton wants these fee increases he should be talking to (Democratic Senate Minority Leader) Bakk,” said Hackbarth.

Hackbarth found it curious so many Senate Democrats voted against the license fee increases.

Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, indicated he is conferring with Dayton Administration officials about the stalled license fee increase initiative.

Ingebrigtsen tabled his bill today.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Ingebrigtsen said on what was the next step.

“I would hope so,” he said of the governor securing more Democratic votes.

“Because it’s his initiative — it’s his bill,” Ingebrigtsen said.

The chairman argued that Bakk’s approach to the fee increase provision had been partisan.

“I don’t get it,” Ingebrigtsen said of the perceived lack of Democratic support.

“I don’t understand it,” he said.

Some 60 environmental and outdoor groups, explained Ingebrigtsen, support the license fee increases.

Ingebrigtsen views them as user-fees, not taxes.

“If you don’t want to hunt or fish or trap in Minnesota, you don’t pay anything,” he said.

Ingebrigtsen views the proposed hunting and fishing license fee increases as vital for the DNR to continue to its work.

Having the initiative fall apart this session would leave the DNR in “dire straits” in terms of addressing such key environmental issues invasive species, he explained.

He knew, Ingebrigtsen explained, that some Republicans would be skittish of voting for the fee increases.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, leans to speak to a colleague on the House floor. Hackbarth is carrying a hunting and fishing license fee increase bill. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

But he thought the initiative would nonetheless succeed.

“I didn’t think there’d be a problem,” said Ingebrigtsen.

Area senators voting for the proposed hunting and fishing fee increases were: Bonoff, Chamberlain, Gazelka, Higgins, Michel, Nienow, Olson, Pederson, Rest. Robling, Senate Majority Leader Senjem, and Wolf.

Voting against: Benson, Brown, Daley, Eaton, Gerlach, Goodwin, Hall, Hann, Jungbauer, Kelash, Koch, Kruse, Latz, Lillie, Limmer, Metzen, Ortman, Sieben, Thompson, Vandeveer, and Wiger.

For his part, Grant was succinct in explaining what had brought him to the State Capitol when testifying some weeks ago.

“I’m not here to promote the stadium,” he said.

“I’m here to promote something more important than the stadium,” said Grant, speaking of the state’s hunting and fishing opportunities.

The administration’s proposed hunting and fishing license increases would capture about $14 million in additional revenue over two years to replenish the game and fish fund — the Senate license fee proposal was smaller.

Hackbarth’s proposal would bring in about the same amount of money as the governor’s.

According to the DNR about 1.5 million Minnesotans buy fishing licenses each year, with about 600,000 purchasing hunting licenses.

One of the pressures on state game and fish funding in recent times is that federal funds have dropped by about $4 million, according to the DNR.

The state government shutdown last summer resulted in the game and fish fund losing about $2 million in fishing license sales.

Dayton Administration Spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci indicated the governor does indeed want the hunting and fish license fee increases.

“We would like for it to happen this year certainly, but if it doesn’t, we will be back next year with another proposal,” she said in an email.