Proposed Measured Would Increase Sales Tax on Wildlife-Related Equipment

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A measure levying a 1.5 cent sales tax increase on wildlife- related equipment could bring in $6.4 million for the financially strapped Department of Wildlife Conservation, members of a legislative task force were told Monday.

Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, task force co-chair along with Rep. Dale Smith, D-St. Louis, will introduce legislation to put the issue to a vote of the people. It must pass both houses of the Legislature before being placed on the ballot. The measure will start in the House, probably with Smith as principal author.

Shurden conceded that achieving passage in both houses will be difficult.

Other legislation will be drafted tying hunting and fishing license fees to inflation. Fees would increase automatically along with some inflation-calculating index, capped at some level. The latter was left unspecified at Monday's meeting.

Shurden introduced legislation last session that would have enacted a half-cent increase in Oklahoma's 4.5 cent sales tax. That measure, which would have raised about $2.1 million, stalled in the House.

Officials were told that a 1 cent hike levied just on hunting and fishing items would bring in about $4.2 million; 2 cents, about $8.5 million.

Agency Director Greg Duffy said that three states currently dedicate a portion of their sales tax revenues for wildlife conservation purposes. He said that Missouri and Arkansas set aside part of overall sales tax monies, while Virginia levies a special tax on sporting goods. Ten other states fund wildlife programs through general appropriations, Duffy said, and four dedicate a portion of lottery proceeds. He pointed out that funding mechanisms in other states include oil and gas taxes, off-road vehicle fees, boat and trailer fees, cigarette taxes, user permits and, in Florida, a surtax on land transfers.

Answering a question from task force member Mike McCormick, Shawnee, Duffy said that to catch up on capital, equipment and other needs, the agency would need $7 million or $8 million extra the first year, then between $3 million and $4 million annually to adequately fund and maintain programs. This includes filling 20 personnel vacancies.

As to the automatic license fee increases, Duffy said that it has been six years since the last fee hike. With about $12.4 million in hunting and fishing fees, he said, it would take more than 15 percent, or about $1.8 million, to bring licensee fees up where they should be. Duffy said this is assuming all licensees would continue to buy licenses. However, generally when there is a fee hike, some drop out at first.

With about 275,000 residential fishing licenses and 65,000 hunting licenses, he said, increasing each by $2.50 would bring in about $680,000. There are also about 51,000 individuals who hold combination licenses. …