The Pennsylvania Senate recently amended and passed Pennsylvania House Bill 1300 (HB 1300) – the state’s annual budget bill that determines spending for all state programs. When amending and passing HB 1300, the Senate included a line-item that would transfer $150 million from the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s (PGC) Game Fund to another fund used for Chesapeake Bay restoration. This transfer not only undercuts the PGC’s budget – funded by hunters and excise taxes on hunting and shooting equipment – but it also puts at risk the agency’s eligibility for federal funding in the future.
Please consider joining the National Deer Association (NDA) in opposing the transfer of $150 million from the Game Fund in HB 1300. CLICK HERE to ask your lawmakers to reconsider the transfer and remove it from the final state budget bill.
The Game Fund, by statute, is to be used for expenses necessary for the mission of the PGC, including, but not limited to, the purchase of land, the costs of activities for the promotion of public interest in recreational hunting and furtaking, nongame species, endangered or threatened species and all other game or wildlife. Transferring the funds from the agency to a state-run fund hinders the agency’s work, places federal funding at risk and sets a dangerous precedent for additional diversions.
The PGC operates autonomously; it does not receive General Funds through the state budget process or funding via state tax dollars. The Game Fund is funded through the sale of hunting licenses and tags, land and resources sales and royalties (purchased with license funds) and by excise taxes on hunting and shooting supplies as established in by the Pittman-Robertson Act. A transfer of $150 million represents about 30% of the Game Fund’s value – no small loss for a self-funded agency.
The diversion could also impact the state’s ability to qualify for federal funding as established in the Pittman-Robertson Act. The Pittman-Roberston Act (PR) established a uniquely American “user pays-public benefits” system of conservation funding. The Act, which was and is widely supported by hunters, shooters, industry and organizations like the NDA, directs a manufacturers’ excise tax between 10-11% on the sale of firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. Monies raised via the tax are then deposited into the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund (Fund), which is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). State fish and wildlife agencies can then apply to receive and utilize program funds to undertake wildlife conservation, provide for hunter and recreational shooter recruitment, build public shooting ranges and undertake other conservation activities.
There are parameters on how states can spend the funds, and each state must match the distribution from the Fund with one state dollar for every three federal dollars. However, PR stipulates that if a state’s wildlife management funds are diverted to other uses, the state may become ineligible for future PR funding. This is significant – Pennsylvania will receive over $40 million in funding from this program in 2023. The FWS makes the eligibility determination for PR funding, but they cannot stop the legislative diversion of state funds from one agency to another.
Additionally, transfers from the Game Fund set a dangerous precedent for future transfers and diversions – in Pennsylvania and nationally. The Game Fund has very specific guiderails, and diverting funds beyond those rails hurts Pennsylvania’s wildlife, hunters and the PGC’s ability to best serve both.