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Idaho to raise fees for out-of-state hunters

BOISE - People who hunt or fish in Idaho but live elsewhere would pay more, under legislation that won final passage in the Idaho House on Friday, but Idahoans wouldn’t see their fees increase at all.

The much-scaled-down Fish and Game fee increase proposal will bring in only about $2.55 million more to operate the Fish and Game Department next year, if Gov. Butch Otter signs it into law, and that’s only if out-of-state license and tag sales remain even.

“It’s all laid on the back of the non-resident hunter,” complained Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, who opposed the bill. But the measure, SB 1141a, passed on a 49-15 vote, and headed to the governor’s desk. It earlier passed the Senate, 31-4.

Fish and Game had first sought a 20 percent fee increase, then lowered that to 15 percent because of concern about the economy. The final version, after Senate amendments, increases fee revenue to the department by only a projected 7 percent, but lawmakers also ordered the department to cut 5 percent from its personnel costs, which they estimated would save the department another $2.5 million.

At an earlier committee hearing, House members debated amending the bill back to the way it was before senators amended it, to restore fee increases for in-state hunters, too. But they opted to pass it as-is, instead, to guarantee something gets through this year.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “I think the department has done a great job,” singling out Director Cal Groen for particular praise. “While this may not be the whole loaf of bread, if we send it to the amending order and send it back, he’s not going to get any of the bread,” Moyle said. “Help the department. While it may not be everything that they need, it’s a start.”

Some lawmakers chuckled that the final version of the bill matches a much-quoted legislative saying about tax policy: “Don’t tax me, don’t tax thee, tax the guy behind the tree.”

Idaho’s Fish and Game Department, which is funded entirely by fees and receives no general tax support, hasn’t had a fee increase since 2005.

Barrett said she feared the bill would cause out-of-staters to trim back plans to come hunt in Idaho, but Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “All of our prices still keep us in the middle of the pack of all of our surrounding states for non-resident tags, so we’re not pricing ourselves out of the market with this increase.”

Under the bill, a non-resident combination hunting and fishing license would rise from $198 to $235, while a non-resident elk tag would go up nearly $45 from $370.75 to $415.

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