Hunters and anglers could see a 5 percent fee increase according to a newly approved Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife budget request.
Initially, WDFW staff asked for a 12 to 15 percent “across-the-board increase on all license products.” That would be the first increase to license fees since 2011. Staff also proposed an annual $10 fee charged to WDFW customers with a $3 fee charged for temporary license holders.
At a meeting on Friday WDFW commission members expressed reservations about asking hunters and anglers to pay more.
The nine-member commission didn’t approve the higher fee increase, instead shifting much of the burden of digging the agency out of a $30 million shortfall on to the state general fund. To fully fund the department and make a lasting structural fix, Nate Pamplin, WDFW’s policy director, said the department will need an additional $60 million.
Initially WDFW staff were asking the commission to approve a budget that would have funded two-thirds of that $60 million from the state’s general fund. The remaining one-third would have been funded using license fees.
The commission opted instead to pull more from the general fund, Pamplin said. The budget that WDFW will present to the Legislature in September will ask user fees to fund 12 percent with the remainder coming from the state’s general fund.
That’s a different strategy than WDFW has taken in the past.
“In 2017 the departments approach was to rely primarily on meeting its budget needs on a fee based approach,” Pamplin said.
That was because the state was in the midst of trying to fully fund education following the McCleary lawsuit. Although that lawsuit has been settled, Pamplin said this year’s ask will be a challenging one.
“There is no doubt that there are going to be a lot of demands on the state general fund from a variety of agencies,” he said.
The $30 million budget shortfall comes from three things, Pamplin said. Funding via general-fund taxes and recreational license sales has not kept pace with costs; a one-time funding fix approved by the Legislature in 2017 expires in June 2019; and the department is still recovering from budget cuts from the Great Recession.
Pamplin has previously called the shortfall a “structural deficit,” one in which the Legislature often approved increased spending but did not provide WDFW the authority to raise those funds.
The budget that WDFW will present to the Legislature in September would address that structural issue, Pamplin said. The Governor will release his budget in December and the Legislature will start considering budget requests in January.
The commission also approved several WDFW bill requests, including one increasing hunting and fishing recruitment efforts. Additionally the commission approved a bill request that would give the Commission authority to adjust license fees in response to yearly inflation, Pamplin said.
The budget that WDFW presents to the state will likely change between now and September, Pamplin said. The Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force will likely have recommendations that could influence the budget in light of increased awareness of the plight of killer whales in the Puget Sound. Additionally, the commission may include a funding request for increased hatchery production of Chinook and Coho salmon.
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