The Maine legislature surprised many – especially me – by appropriating over $350,000 of General Fund tax money to Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in the supplemental budget enacted on May 16 and signed into law immediately by Governor Paul LePage.
Dave Trahan, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, deserves a lot of credit for this achievement, with special thanks to the members of the Appropriations Committee who made these decisions.
Dave never gave up, even after I repeatedly reported – based on interviews with members of the Appropriations Committee – that there was no chance DIF&W would get any tax money. There just wasn’t any to give.
But even Dave faltered, because he allowed me to collect on my bet with him (lunch) that DIF&W would get no tax money from the legislature and governor this year. Dave paid off the bet by buying my lunch on Tuesday. And the next day, he won the bet! I will be delighted to repay the money he paid for my lunch and to buy Dave lunch sometime soon.
Five DIF&W bills were on the Appropriations Table, requiring funding in order to be enacted.
Previously, the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee informed the Appropriations Committee that its highest priority of the four bills that emerged from that committee was LD 372, An Act to Reduce Deer Predation. That bill called for $100,000 each year for three years for the agency’s predator control program.
The legislature appropriated all $100,000 for the predator control program, tripling the amount that will be available in the next fiscal year for that important program.
LD 637 was a resolve that increased the amount of money tagging agents receive from $1 to $2 for each $5 tag purchased by a hunter. That will result in the loss of $30,000 a year for DIF&W, which supported the bill. The legislature appropriated the $30,000 needed for this bill to be enacted.
LD 1242, sponsored by Rep. David Burns, establishes a check-off on the hunting license application for donations to a predator control fund or a deer management fund. The bill was unfortunately projected to result in a loss of $38,000, because it also directs DIF&W’s portion of the deer-tagging fee into a special deer management fund – and I guess no one thinks the check-off will raise any money! The legislature appropriated the $38,000 needed to enact this bill.
The final bill was LD 213, calling for a $500,000 appropriation for each of the next three years for fish stocking. Even DIF&W walked away from this, agreeing with the IFW Committee that rated it at the bottom of its list of priorities for the four bills awaiting action by the Appropriations Committee.
So you can imagine my astonishment when I learned last night that $200,000 of tax money in FY13 had been appropriated for this bill!
The final bill that won funding was one that then-Senator David Trahan sponsored, allowing fish and wildlife habitat and other projects to be funded with TIF money generated from businesses that are awarded TIF tax breaks for business expansion projects. This was a brilliant suggestion by Trahan, and I’ll be writing more about it in the future. It could mean millions of dollars for fish and wildlife projects in the future.
We were lucky that the state government received a significant unanticipated revenue boost over the past few months, allowing the Appropriations Committee to be a bit more generous that its members anticipated.
And even though the $350,000 appropriated for these bills is far short of the $8 million the general public should be providing to DIF&W through tax revenue each year, it was good to exit this troubled legislative session with something.
Of course, each of these bills now requires the signature of Governor Paul LePage. He’s expected to act on them early next week. Stay tuned!