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License fees test priority of legislators

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opinion Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

The Minnesota Legislature has convened its 2012 session, and there is a simple legislative test that should be administered immediately so that Minnesotans can see whether this session will be about common-sense compromise or partisan politics.

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The Legislature should be asked to approve increases in hunting and fishing license fees.

Several factors make this a good test. Topping that list is the inevitable fact that the state Department of Natural Resources’ Game and Fish Fund is on track to run out of money.

Its balance is projected to be at $6.7 million June 30, and it will drop to about $200,000 a year later if nothing changes.

Legally, the fund cannot go into the red, which means programs would have to be cut.

Leaders in the DNR cite these reasons for waning funds. First, fishing license fees have not changed since 2001, and most hunting licenses are at the same prices they were in 2000. Second, last year’s state shutdown cut license revenues by more than $1 million. And third, the state’s cut from federal excise taxes on outdoor products is lower than projected.

Many Minnesota anglers and hunters are acutely aware of the risks of red ink. That’s why many outdoor groups are lobbying the Legislature to approve fee increases. Yes, that’s right — these voters want to raise the fees they pay.

The DNR has been proactive in addressing this fiscal challenge. In the past three years it has reduced full-time fish and wildlife employees, compared license fees to other states and requested fee increases from the Legislature.

Gov. Mark Dayton in 2011 proposed raising resident angling licenses from $17 to $24, and resident deer licenses from $26 to $30. He and the DNR also offered several new licenses aimed at curbing the costs for teenagers and people who fish only a few months each year.

Those seem reasonable, but thanks to those “no new taxes” blinders, the Republican-led Legislature last year did not approve anything, nor did it offer any viable alternatives. Naturally, the problem did not go away, so now the Legislature must face the same dilemma: Either raise fees — which has the support of those who pay them — or force cuts to programs at the core of Minnesota’s outdoors legacy.

The common-sense answer is obvious.

— St. Cloud Times

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