Monday, June 16, 2014

PA Game, Fish and Boat commissions merger takes a hit

By Bob Frye

Is anyone surprised, really?

The General Assembly spent about $100,000 of taxpayer money to examine the pros and cons of merging the Pennsylvania Game and Fish and Boat commissions. It was the third such study done in the past 20 years.

It's looking like the latest examination was, as some suspected, as much a political ploy as the first two.
The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released its merger study report March 19. It said such a move could bring about $5 million in savings annually.

That was reiterated this past week.

Patricia Berger, chief counsel for the committee, told lawmakers at a meeting of the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee in Harrisburg that combining the agencies wouldn't necessarily bring about a financial windfall.

“Although the management of these (natural) resources by a single entity is certainly feasible, the combined expenditure per license of both the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission is already lower than the average of other states, suggesting there may be limited opportunities for significant savings,” Berger said.

We can debate whether $4.8 million is “significant.” But it appears this merger idea never had a chance, and lawmakers knew it.

Several were quoted here and elsewhere as far back as March saying there wasn't much chance of a deal getting done. The political will doesn't exist, they said.

Nothing seems to have changed since.

One of the handful of lawmakers to attend this past week's game and fisheries committee meeting was Rep. David Maloney, a Berks County Republican.

He's been as tough as anyone in recent years on the Game and Fish and Boat commissions, often charging that they've lost their connection to sportsmen over deer management and fish stockings, among other things. He was at it again this past week, saying both agencies have caused a lot of controversy by “straying from their missions.”

Frustration resulting from all that is what led to the merger study being done, he said.
Specifically, the inability of lawmakers to convince the agencies to change direction is what “creates the push to look at other options.”

Still, Maloney said he doesn't support a merger, in part, because no one's asked sportsmen what they think.
Rep. Gary Haluska, a Cambria County Democrat and one of the few other lawmakers to attend and stay until it was over, said he opposes a merger, too, fearing that any cost savings would be more than offset by a diminished “product” for hunters and anglers.

In fact, no one except Potter County Republican Martin Causer — who chairs the committee and sponsored the merger study — said he supported it.

He promised the committee will continue to study the idea. But even he conceded that changing anything will be difficult.

“Anybody who works in this building for any significant period of time knows that change occurs very slowly here,” Causer said.

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