For more than 100 years, the job of paying for fish and wildlife conservation in Pennsylvania has rested solely on the backs of anglers and hunters.
Is it time for that to change?
At least a dozen state lawmakers think so. House Bill 1676, sponsored by Allegheny County Democratic Rep. Dave Levdansky and 11 others, would divert 0.00116 percent of state sales tax revenues to the Pennsylvania Game Commission and 0.00058 percent of the sales tax to the Fish and Boat Commission.
That would provide about $10 million for Game annually and about $5 million for Fish and Boat.
That's not a "whopping lot of money," Levdansky said. Pennsylvania collected $8.6 billion in state sales tax revenues in fiscal 2006-07, according to state Department of Revenue statistics, so the commissions would be getting a tiny piece of the pie.
But it would represent a dramatic change in how conservation gets funded in the state.
Historically, neither commission has ever gotten any general tax fund money. Instead, sportsmen -- who represent fewer than 10 percent of all state residents -- have funded the management of all species, game and non-game alike, by purchasing hunting and fishing licenses.
That's "neither fair nor appropriate," Levdansky said.
"Nobody hunts bats and hawks, for example, but the Game Commission spends time and money to manage them. The Fish and Boat Commission does similar things for species nobody tries to catch. They have this larger mission," Levdansky said.
"But taxpayers don't do anything to fund that work. That has to change."
In years past, sportsmen and even the commissions themselves resisted the idea of taking any so-called "alternative funding." The fear was that it would compromise their independence and give non- hunters, and specifically anti-hunters, a say in fish and wildlife management.
Things have changed, however. At a recent hearing before the House Finance Committee, representatives of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Club and United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania spoke in favor of Levdansky's bill.
Mike Schmit, deputy executive director of the Game Commission, said that agency would welcome the money as well.
"Hosue Bill 1676 would not radically alter Pennsylvania's current fish and wildlife funding structure, as sportsmen will continue to pay the lion's share. …