Fiscal Responsibility for Pennsylvania Anglers and Boaters
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is a government business funded primarily by sales of fishing licenses and boat registrations. The majority of government agencies receive general fund appropriations of tax revenues to support public service programs. The PFBC generates revenues through customer sales like a for-profit business, but the PFBC must also follow the rules of government for managing operations and receive legislative approval to increase fees charged for the goods (hatchery fish) and services (public safety; aquatic resource protection and conservation) provided to meet angler and boater customer expectations. The agency’s spending and earning model is really a mix of business and government principles.
The agency is mindful of the responsibility of managing its angler and boater customers’ hard-earned dollars wisely. Until this year, the PFBC has been able to balance its budget and not spent 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 pension costs. The agency proudly leads the nation in how efficiently it operates. The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee found in 2014 that “of the states for which we have expenditure information, Pennsylvania’s
PFBC has the lowest expenditures per license (emphasis added).”
In order to meet the escalating costs of employee pensions, health care, and general inflation faced by all Commonwealth agencies, the PFBC has cut spending in large part by reducing staff from a high of 432 to around 360. At the same time, the value of a fishing license adjusted for inflation has dropped to about $16.25, while fish production costs have climbed dramatically. The true cost of today’s fishing license adjusted for inflation would be $37.18. At $22.90, today’s license value is a real bargain for PA anglers!
Revenues & Expenditures Major Cost Drivers – Employee Benefits
Additional annual personnel and operating costs of $6.2 million have caused expenditures to now exceed annual revenues. Absent a revenue increase, the PFBC will begin using an uncommitted reserve fund balance of about $60 million to cover essential health care and pension obligations and maintain operations and services, which will deplete the reserve fund within five years if revenues don’t increase.
In an analysis of the PFBC, Penn State’s Smeal College of Business and College of Agricultural Sciences found “the agency’s reserve fund should be seen as a ‘strategic strength’ and should be maintained as a type of rainy day fund for unforeseen needs. It would weaken the agency if the reserve fund were depleted to zero.”
Facing escalating costs and declining revenues after 12 years without an increase in the price of a fishing license, the PFBC Board of Commissioners voted on September 25, 2017, 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 expenses would involve closing two warm water hatcheries and one trout hatchery in FY 2018-19. The plan would reduce the number of trout stocked in 2019 by 7.5 percent and result in severe reductions to the cooperative nursery program. Barring a price 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.
Senate Bill 30, which delegates authority to set license fees to the PFBC, has passed the Senate and stalled in the House. It is imperative for the legislature to act on some form of fee increase for the PFBC to continue to be fiscally responsible. Fiscal responsibility means maintaining a balanced budget and not spending more than it earns. SB 30 would allow the PFBC to generate sufficient revenue to immediately spend unrestricted reserves on over $6.4 million of deferred critical needs and a prioritized list of $110 million in deferred infrastructure projects.
Pennsylvania anglers significantly contribute $1.2 billion to the $46 billion in national fishing 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 PFBC, which reinvests license revenue locally. It is time the legislature recognizes that the Commission is fiscally responsible and provide the necessary funds to meet the expectations of current and future generations of Pennsylvania anglers and boaters.
We are asking you to contact your Representative and the House Game and Fisheries Committee leadership and urge them to support Senate Bill 30 and to vote yes for this important Bill. If you do not know who your representative is, please go to http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/
|Hon. Keith Gillespie, Chair
House Game and Fisheries Committee
45 East Wing
PO Box 202047
Harrisburg, PA 17120-2047
Fax: (717) 782-2914
Hon. Bryan Barbin, Democratic Chair