Governor Paul LePage has slammed the money door on Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, refusing to support Senate President Kevin Raye’s bill that was a final desperate attempt to come to the aid of this beleaguered agency.
Kevin stuck his toe in the door and has kept it open a crack, but he’s more likely to lose his toe than convince LePage to provide any funding to DIF&W.
Today, given the Governor’s refusal to support his bill, Kevin asked the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee to table, once again, his bill. It will be considered sometime next week, but for me, that’s just postponing the inevitable. It’s dead, going nowhere without the Governor’s support.
The department will not be getting any new money this session, from the General Fund or from sportsmen. Having bet SAM’s executive director Dave Trahan that this would happen, I’ll be getting dinner at a restaurant of my choice. Truth be told, I wish I’d lost the bet.
LD 1652, An Act to Ensure a Reliable Funding Stream for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, was an attempt by Raye, in collaboration with SAM, Maine Audubon, and The Nature Conservancy, to find a revenue stream that would give DIF&W the public support and funding we’ve been seeking for decades.
While a lot of different possibilities were explored, the one they settled on was a small percentage of the sales tax, an idea that enjoyed overwhelming support from legislators last year, in a Constitutional amendment that carried in the House by two-thirds but fell two votes short of the two-thirds needed in the Senate.
Recognizing the impossibility of achieving this new revenue stream immediately, implementation would be delayed until fiscal year 2014.
No Way Kevin Raye
No way Kevin Raye, was the governor’s response (I’m making this up, because I was not present for that conversation, but this pretty much sums up whatever LePage did say). Maybe next year, he actually did say, while at the same time proposing a new supplemental budget with $38 million more in tax cuts and increased spending for several programs.
I must give great credit, and my personal thanks, to Kevin Raye for his steadfast focused effort to provide funding to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Kevin was also a key player in the creation of the Maine Game Plan for Deer (much of the plan was created from suggestions gathered by Kevin and Dave Trahan), and has maintained a high level of interest in the implementation of that plan.
He gets it. It’s a shame the Governor doesn’t.
Last week, DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock briefed the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife about his agency’s financial problems (reported in a previous blog post). He reported that if DIF&W’s revenue is not sufficient to pay its bills, it’s “carrying account” would be tapped. That’s the agency’s surplus account, comprised mostly of savings achieved by keeping about 20 percent of the department’s approved positions vacant.
Chandler told committee members that their approval would be needed before the carrying account was used to pay bills. I confirmed all of this with the Appropriations Committee’s House Chair, Pat Flood.
A month ago, the IFW Committee scheduled a work session for March 7 to review DIF&W’s funding needs and consider funding some of those needs from the agency’s surplus account.
On March 7, recognizing the shaky financial situation at DIF&W, the committee didn’t even try. There was no presentation of the department’s funding needs, and the only discussion of the surplus concerned the steps that committee members needed to take to prevent the Appropriations Committee from taking it.
The fact is, the legislature can’t take any of the revenue that DIF&W receives from its customers. It can only take back General Fund tax money that DIF&W was given in the current budget. This year all of that money has already been taken back. No more blood in that turnip!
Predator Control Money
The legislative committee did, for the second time in the 125th legislative session, unanimously endorse LD 372, a bill that would appropriate $100,000 of General Fund tax money to control predation of deer on private and public lands.
The Appropriations Committee sent this bill back to the committee last year because no General Fund money was available, and the IFW Committee carried it over to this year’s session. Sent on its way to the House and Senate yet again by the IFW Committee, I can only categorize this as “wishing and hoping.” And unrealistic, of course.
In closing, let’s remember that in his SAM PAC candidate survey, interview with the SAM Board, and his Wildfire TV gubernatorial debate on conservation and environmental issues, Paul LePage made many promises.
The biggest was his promise to submit a budget that funded at least 20 percent of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s budget with General Fund tax money, and to oppose any budget that failed to do that. He didn’t do it, his most significant broken promise.
Last June the Governor hosted a well-attended press conference to announce the Maine Game Plan for Deer, created to rebuild Maine’s greatly diminished deer herd, along with the hunting industry that is now down and out.
But the only real money put into the plan was a measly $50,000 from the Department’s own coffers – to spend on limiting predation of deer by coyotes. As of today, most of that money remains unspent. The governor walked away from the press conference and apparently never gave this another thought.
A few weeks ago, DIF&W’s John Pratte presented a list of things the department must have to fully implement it’s game plan for deer. The cost of those things totaled $650,000. They didn’t get it. Not a cent of it.
Despite the exceptional dedication and good work of DIF&W’s employees, and the outstanding leadership and vision of Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine, the uncaring indifference of the Governor, who promised so much and delivered so little, leaves this important agency devastated.