Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Majority Chair Of Senate Committee Still Supporting Efforts To Remove Executive Director of Fish & Boat Commission

The Senate Game and Fisheries Committee Wednesday had an informational meeting on the annual reports of the Game and Fish and Commissions.
Sen. Patrick Stefano (R-Fayette), Majority Chair of the Committee, said at the end of the meeting he still supports enactment of Senate Bill 935 to limit the terms of Executive Directors to 8 years to help repair the relationship between the Fish and Boat Commission and the General Assembly.
John Arway, the current Executive Director, reached his 8th year of service this month.
Fish & Boat Commission
John Arway, Executive Director of the Fish and Boat Commission focused his written testimony on the fiscal challenges the Commission faces.
“In most years before your committee, I provide an update on the many initiatives that the agency has undertaken for the benefit of the Commonwealth’s anglers and boaters – from hatcheries and fisheries management to law enforcement and public outreach.
“However, fiscal year 2017 will be a pivotal year for the agency, a time when expenditures are projected to begin exceeding revenues, despite my efforts over the last eight years as director to contain costs.
“Until 2017, the Commission was able to balance its budget and not spend more than it earned. This fiscal management approach has allowed it to build a rainy-day fund of uncommitted reserves to prepare for and meet foreseen rising pension and health care costs. The agency proudly leads the nation in how efficiently it operates.
“A total of 860,000 fishing licenses were sold in 2013 which resulted in $19.8 million in revenue.  845,000 licenses were sold in 2017 resulting in $19.2 million in revenue. That is a 1.66 percent drop in sales.
“During the same period, the Commission experienced a 6.2 percent increase in expenses, with little to no change in the amount of goods produced or level of services provided.
“Quite a remarkable feat for either a business or a government agency.
“Additional annual personnel and operating costs of $6.2 million have caused expenditures to now exceed annual revenues.
“Absent a revenue increase, the agency will be forced this fiscal year to begin using an uncommitted reserve fund balance of about $60 million [currently about $47 million] to cover essential health care and pension obligations and maintain operations and services. This will significantly deplete the reserve fund within five years if revenues do not increase.
“Facing escalating costs and declining revenues after 13 years without an increase in the price of a fishing license, the Board of Commissioners voted last September to reduce spending by $2 million in fiscal year 2018-19 if no additional revenues are received.
“The current plan for achieving the $2 million reduction in operating costs would involve closing two warmwater hatcheries and one trout hatchery in fiscal year 2018-19. The plan would reduce the number of trout stocked in 2019 by 7.5 percent (approximately 220,000 trout) and result in severe reductions in staff support to the Cooperative Nursery Program.
“Barring a license fee increase, the agency must begin to take these steps to remain financially solvent and provide basic services to Pennsylvania’s 1.1 million anglers and nearly 3 million boaters.
“Fiscal responsibility means maintaining a balanced budget and not spending more money than is earned. Senate Bill 30 [now in the House Game and Fisheries Committee] would allow the Commission to generate sufficient revenue to immediately spend uncommitted reserves on over $6.4 million of deferred critical needs and begin to address a prioritized list of $110 million in deferred infrastructure projects.
“Pennsylvania anglers significantly contribute $1.2 billion to the $46 billion in national fishing-related expenditures. Successful businesses require funding to sustain operations and to invest in new ideas to grow sales and participation.
“The same applies to successful government businesses like the Commission, which reinvests license revenue locally.
“In September 2017, the Board of Commissioners authorized up to $2 million in spending cuts in fiscal year 2018-19 absent a revenue increase. Several members of the General Assembly then asked what the agency would do with its reserve funds if it received a license fee increase this legislative session.
“The first action would be to continue to operate all hatcheries at current production levels, which would mean no reductions in trout, warmwater or coolwater fish stockings.
“However, if legislative action is not taken, the Commission must begin cutting programs. The decision about which streams and lakes would or would not be stocked in the absence of a fee increase does not need to be made until July 1.  
“We thank the Senate for passing Senate Bill 30 and providing an avenue for the Commission to implement a solution for the 2019 license year.
“With passage by the House, this legislation will allow us to avoid the need to make deep programmatic cuts beginning in fiscal year 2018, and will allow us to continue to provide the goods and services that sustain the $1.2 billion in annual business generated by anglers fishing in Pennsylvania.”
In response to a question from Sen. Patrick Stefano (R-Fayette), Majority Chair of the Committee, Arway said an earlier plan laid out to close hatcheries and eliminate stream stocking in certain areas off the table.  He said if there is a lack of action on Senate Bill 30 or a license fee increase and cuts in costs were needed, the Commission would ask legislators for advice on where the cuts should be made.
Sen. Stefano suggested, like the Game Commission, there might be a need to ask the Auditor General to do a financial audit of the Fish and Boat Commission before moving on Senate Bill 30.
Sen. Stefano said he still has concerns about the Commission’s relationship with the General Assembly and is still supporting Senate Bill 935 to limit the terms of Executive Directors to 8 years to help repair that relationship. [Arway reached his 8th year this month.]
Click Here for a copy of Arway’s written testimony. Click Here for a copy of the Fish and Boat Commission’s 2017 Annual Report.
Game Commission
Brian Burhans, Executive Director of the Game Commission, gave an overview of the agency’s  2017 Annual Report and showed the accompanying video which summarizes accomplishments and challenges in the past year, including engaging the public on wildlife issues, chronic wasting disease, West Nile virus in Pennsylvania’s state bird the ruffed grouse and maintaining financial stability.
The report is broken out into 5 sections-- Putting Wildlife First, Managing Wildlife Habitat, Protecting Our Wildlife, Proven Leaders In Conservation, Hunting and Trapping and Striving For Long-Term Financial Stability.
Among the accomplishments in 2017 were--
-- 47,606 acres of wildlife habitat improved;
-- 9,896 acres transitioned to young forests;
-- Improved 4,262 miles of roads and trails;
-- Nearly 8,000 samples collected for chronic wasting disease research;
-- Hunters harvested 333,254 deer, 48,945 wild turkeys, 3,431 bears, 104 elk;
-- Raised and released 243,000 pheasants on public hunting lands; and
-- 7,516 prosecutions for wildlife violations, 12,000 warnings.
“We live by our mission to manage Pennsylvania’s wild birds, wild mammals, and their habitats for current and future generations. That entails managing 480 wild birds and mammals, including 20 endangered species, seven threatened species, and 109 species of greatest conservation need.
“The agency also manages more than 1.5 million acres of state game lands spread across 300 tracts in 65 of the state’s 67 counties. These lands were purchased largely through revenues derived from hunting and trapping licenses, along with help from many other conservation partners.
“The Pennsylvania Game Commission is blessed to have a hard-charging workforce of full-time and part- time employees and volunteers. Compared to other Commonwealth agencies, the Game Commission is small. When including the number of citizens who volunteer their time to support the agency’s mission, the headcount is impressive.”
Burhans said the agency faces significant fiscal challenges, including a 20 percent vacancy rate in wildlife conservation officers that could increase to 40 percent by the time the next class of conservation officers is completed.
There was also a discussion of the potential economic benefits of allowing Sunday hunting.  [Sen. James Brewster (D-Allegheny), Minority Chair of the Committee, introduced Senate Bill 1081 to prohibit Sunday hunting generally and provide for limited Sunday hunting on state game lands.]
Click Here for a copy of the Game Commission’s 2017 Annual Report.
Click Here for a copy of available written testimony and to watch a video of the hearing.
Sen. Patrick Stefano (R-Fayette) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7175 or send email to:  Sen. James Brewster (D-Allegheny) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5580 or send email to:
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