Panel votes to raise hunting, fishing fees

Posted April 22, 2009, at 10:01 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s hunters and anglers will have to pay higher license fees for the next two years under a plan supported Wednesday by a solid majority of the Appropriations Committee.

“This is a different approach than what the governor proposed,” said Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Danny Martin after a committee vote to adopt a compromise worked out between members of the Appropriations Committee and the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

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“We had proposed an across-the-board increase in fees, but the plan adopted by the Appropriations Committee focuses on four big fees,” Martin said.

Under the plan, the popular combination hunting and fishing license will go up by $4 for residents and $12 for non-residents. There would be a $7 increase for all other non-resident licenses and permits.

A combination hunting and fishing license currently costs $38 for residents and $137 for non-residents.

The fees package supported by the committee would raise about $2.6 million over the two- year budget.

Rep. John Robinson, R-Raymond, said there are too many fee increases in the proposal. He praised lawmakers’ efforts to compromise, but said he could not support the package.

“I just think it needs to be said that there will be many people that will struggle with these increases, and they need to be spoken for,” he said.

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, and Rep. Pat Flood, R-Winthrop, are the members of the Appropriations Committee who worked with department officials and the DIF&W committee on the compromise. Martin said they rejected the staggering of fee increases over two years and over the dozens of licenses and permits in the original proposal.

“This is a better approach than all of the increases that were originally proposed by the governor,” Martin said.

Rep. Martin pointed out the package also reduces the fall turkey permit fee in the second year of the budget. It also provides for free permits for resident junior hunters beginning Jan. 1, 2010.

But there are other increases with boat registration fees up by $5 and increased tagging fees for moose, bear, deer and wild turkey. Starting Jan. 1, 2010, the mandatory minimum fine for operating an unregistered recreational vehicle would go from $100 to $200.

The proposal also shifts some positions among the various funding sources of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to keep positions from being eliminated, but decisions on positions were tabled for further consideration.

“We don’t know what is going to happen when revenues are re-projected,” said Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport. “I think everything has to be on the table, and that includes IF&W. I don’t think anyone should look on this as a final vote by any means.”

Rosen said committee members all know that revenues will be re-projected downward next week, and that they will have to work to reach agreement on budget cuts.

“I don’t think we will look at this again,” Rep. Martin said of the fee increases. “Most of this department is self funded. The only general fund money going to this department is one million dollars.”

He said the carrying account for DIF&W, which has more than a million dollars, has not been touched to balance the agency’s budget. He said it has enough to be a “rainy day fund” for the agency to weather additional cuts that may have to occur because of the decline in state revenues.

“Anything can be revisited before the final budget vote, but we have really tried to be cautious about not voting anything that we didn’t feel we were ready to or stick to going forward,” said Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.

She said the panel will have to revisit many budget areas after revenues are re-projected, but she does not believe DIF&W will be one of the areas.

Commissioner Martin is not as sure. He said Gov. Baldacci has made it clear that any revenue shortfall will be made up by cuts in state spending.

“I don’t know what the target amount will be,” he said. “We will have to go back to the drafting board and look at whatever target the governor gives us and see what we can do.”

The Revenue Forecasting Committee has to submit its re-projections to the Legislature by May 1, and while no one is projecting the size of the shortfall, members of the Appropriations Committee know it will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

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