Short-Term and Long-Term Fixes for MassWildlife’s Funding

Contact: Joseph Mullin, Assistant Manager, Northeaster States and States Program Assistant

Highlights

  • On July 16, the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board voted in support of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s (MassWildlife) proposal for new, phased-in license fee increases, which now rests with the Executive Office for Administration and Finance for final approval.
  • That same day, Governor Charlie Baker signed the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget, which included, among many things, a line item for reimbursing the Fisheries and Game Fund for lost revenue due to discounted and free licenses.
  • Currently, MassWildlife is not reimbursed for the roughly 27,000 free licenses that are given to residents that are 70+ years of age.
  • In addition to the proposed license fee increases and FY22 budget, Massachusetts Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Senator Anne Gobi has introduced Senate Bill 546, which would codify the method of reimbursement outlined in the budget.

Why it Matters: Massachusetts has not experienced raises in license fee prices in roughly 26 years. The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) relies on these funds to continue offering the multitude of opportunities for the Bay State’s sportsmen and women. However, with current fees lagging behind inflation, coupled with the fact that approximately 12% of the licenses are given out for free (to the 70+ age group), MassWildlife is looking to balance its books while avoiding sticker-shock, and is thus taking a phased-in approach to price increases. The inclusion of a line item that reimburses the Fisheries and Game Fund for lost revenue due to discounted and free licenses is a welcome temporary solution to what will hopefully be set in statute through Massachusetts Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Senator Anne Gobi’s Senate Bill 546.

As was previously reported, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) hosted three public hearings on its proposed phased-in license fee increases and collected public comments until early July. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation testified during each of the hearings and provided written testimony in support of MassWildlife’s plan. For more than 26 years, MassWildlife has not seen an increase in its license fees, resulting in fiscal issues as expenses have grown exponentially but its revenues have remained stagnant. Understanding this reality, on July 16 the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board voted in favor of the Division’s phased-in license increases. The plan was submitted back to the Executive Office for Administration and Finance where it is currently awaiting a stamp of approval.

On July 16, Governor Charlie Baker singed the budget for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) into law, which provides for a temporary solution to MassWildlife’s funding issue. The FY22 budget states “that the Inland Fisheries and Game Fund shall be reimbursed annually from the General Fund for all lost revenue attributed to the issuance of discounted or free hunting and fishing licenses.” Providing this interim solution reinforces the need to codify a reimbursement system that the Division can consistently rely on, such as through Massachusetts Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Senator Anne Gobi’s Senate Bill 546 (SB 546). This legislation would pose a statutory mandate that Massachusetts’ General Fund picks up the tab on the Inland Fisheries and Game Fund’s lost revenue resulting from free and discounted licenses, plugging a hole that accounts for roughly 12% of the state’s total licenses.

CSF applauds MassWildlife for its phased-in approach to increasing license fees and is encouraged by the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board’s vote of approval. Our Foundation also welcomes the Governor’s recent signing of the FY22 budget and is confident that it will provide short-term benefits for the Division. Finally, CSF looks forward to working alongside Senator Gobi and the Massachusetts Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus in advancing pro-sportsmen’s policies, such as SB 546, which fight to financially stabilize MassWildlife’s future.

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