A bill that would eliminate resident hunting and fishing licenses and end the state’s share of federal revenues has been introduced in the Mississippi Senate.
Senate Bill 2446, sponsored by Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, would repeal Sections 49-7-5 and 49-7-9, which establish hunting and fishing license requirements.
Sojourner, a first-term legislator, told The Clarion-Ledger on Friday that the she did not intend to underfund the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks but to “fund the department with the use of state general funds and remove the burden of annual license fees from hunters’ and anglers’ wallets.”
She added “I’m not advocating at all that we slash the Wildlife and Fisheries funds. This is not about punishing Wildlife and Fisheries at all. I have a great relationship with a lot of folks there.”
Sojourner also indicated that after Mississippians overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution in November to make hunting and fishing a right, she thinks they should not have to pay for that right.
She failed to address how the state would fare if it loses millions of dollars of federal funding based in large part on license sales.
Through two federal programs, the Dingall-Johnson (fishing) and Pittman-Robertson (hunting) acts, money is accrued each year from taxes on the sale of hunting and fishing equipment and entered into the respective Sport Fish Restoration Fund or Wildlife Restoration Fund.
Revenues come from excise taxes generated by the sale of sporting firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing equipment and tackle, and electric outboard motors. Recreational boaters also contribute to the program through fuel taxes on motorboats and small engines.
Each year, funds collected the previous fiscal year are meted out among the states, based on factors that include among others license sales and acreage. Mississippi received over $14.4 million in 2014.
According to the MDWFP, those funds are paid to Mississippi in the form of 75 percent payments on approved hunting and fishing projects, meaning that federal funds pay about $750,000 of every $1 million spent on those projects such as building boat ramps, fish stockings, managing Wildlife Management Area and programs such as assisting private land/lake managers.
While the bill will likely find grass roots support from rural Mississippians, many sportsmen realize the problems this bill will create if passed.
“I can think of about 20 million reasons not to support this bill,” said lifelong hunter and fisherman James Thornhill of Jackson. “Most of those would be in dollars but the main problem is that it’s nuts. If this thing passes, all the money I’ve paid into the federal programs with the equipment I buy and the money I spend going hunting and fishing will go to another state, and then I will obviously be taxed even higher to offset the loss of all funding to the state wildlife agency.
“The idea of that rankles me. Nobody likes paying taxes and nobody likes paying license fees, but anybody who knows anything about wildlife and fisheries funding knows that we need to pay it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard hunting, fishing or conservation groups proudly say ‘we pay our own way.’ It’s a banner we all like to wave. Basically, if you don’t fish, don’t hunt or don’t boat, you don’t pay a dime to support those activities.”
Randy Parks of Brandon said his concern is that he will continue to pay the federal excise tax in the future without any of the benefits.
“That is a ridiculous proposal,” he said. “Are they wanting me to pay taxes that do not benefit me? No. That’s wrong. That’s stupid. That’s going to make a lot of people mad once they learn that’s happening.
“I can understand wanting to lessen the burden on citizens, but this does not do it because the wildlife agency is going to be funded by other means, and where will that money come from? Taxes. At least through license sales, the money is earmarked for wildlife and fisheries programs and can’t be used for anything else. We know our programs will be funded.”
The bill is in the Senate Wildlife and Fisheries Committee and faces a Feb. 3 deadline for committee action.