No organizations or individuals spoke at the Appropriations Committee’s hearing this afternoon on the governor’s proposed budget for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Committee members must have thought they’d died and gone to heaven, after more than a month of budget hearings that often drew hundreds of protestors to the Capitol and required special security outside the committee’s hearing room.
Following IFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock's presentation of the budget, the committee's Senate Chair Richard Rosen invited comments from the public but was greeted with a very telling silence.
It was simply a case of last and least for our beleaguered agency. IFW was the last agency to have its budget heard, and as usual, no public tax money is proposed despite the fact the agency provides $8 to $10 million of services to the public. Yes, you can get something for free in Maine – if you are not a licensed sportsmen. We’re paying all the bills at IFW.
No one raised the issue of Governor LePage’s promises to provide $13 million of General Fund tax money for IFW and to veto any budget that failed to provide that money.
Last Friday Commissioner Chandler Woodcock set up a budget briefing for me with Bert Bilodeau, the guy in charge of financial affairs for the natural resource agencies, and Terry Arbour, IFW’s financial analyst. Attending with me was Jack Nicholas, who has served as the state’s Budget Director and Commissioner of both Finances and Health and Human Services. Jack has been voluntarily helping me understand IFW’s budget for about a year.
Also attending the briefing were Tom Doak of SWOAM, Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association, Jenn Gray of Maine Audubon, and Tom Abello of the Nature Conservancy. Matt Dunlap of SAM was invited but was unable to attend because he was headed to Presque Isle for a sportsman’s show.
We spent two hours with Bert buried in the details of DIF&W’s budget and learned a lot. I’ll be writing more about the budget as the legislative session proceeds. But here are a few general observations and facts. Let’s begin with a question.
What percentage of the money DIF&W collects from sportsmen goes to the 123 wardens and staff of the Maine Warden Service?
The answer is 48 percent. That’s right. Almost half of all the money the agency collects in fees, permits, and registrations from sportsmen goes to the Maine Warden Service. The other half funds all of the agency’s other work from hatcheries to deer management. The agency has about 300 authorized positions.
IFW’s proposed budget for FY 12 totals $43,316,348. That’s more than $4 million less than the amount authorized in FY 10 that ended on June 30, 2010. But it’s $5 million more than the agency actually spent in FY 10.
More than 3 dozen positions are currently vacant at IFW. Many have been vacant for a long time because Governor Baldacci refused to allow them to be filled. Chandler told the Appropriations Committee that 35 current staff members will be impacted by the proposed budget – meaning they may retire rather than suffer the changes Governor LePage has proposed in state employee retirement provisions.
Chandler also reported that he is talking with the governor about a reorganization of positions, including the creation of a new landowner relations position. The department also has a request pending at the Budget Office to fill some vacant warden positions.
Committee member John Martin asked the best question, asking for a list of the IFW proposals that the governor rejected when he submitted IFW’s budget. Martin also asked for the balance in IFW’s carrying account (essentially it’s surplus of revenue from sportsmen). I happen to know the answer because I asked Bert the same question. The carrying account currently totals $1.2 million.
Martin asked for information on the impact on IFW of last year’s early-retirement package, and what the impact would be this year if that package is offered again.
The committee also asked for more information on a host of issues from license trends to the balances in all special funds. I’ll collect that information at the budget work session and report on anything that looks interesting.
The big questions are these:
Will Chandler win the governor’s approval for his reorganization plan? What’s in it?
Will he find the money to fund that plan including the money necessary to fully implement IFW’s new Maine Game Plan for Deer?
Will the governor recall his promise to provide $13 million of tax money for IFW?