Senate Bill to end licenses dangerous

Mississippi sportsmen and sportswomen, like writer Bobby Cleveland, have always been proud that they pay to support their hunting and fishing habits. He feels a bill that would abolish resident hunting and fishing licenses threatens the future of both sports in the Magnolia State.

State’s wildlife and fisheries programs would suffer, and its share of federal funds lost

Just when I thought I’d seen or heard it all …

There’s a bill in the Mississippi Senate that if passed would abolish the requirement for resident hunting and fishing licenses.

That in itself would cost the state wildlife agency about $16 million, but there’s more and it makes the bill very dangerous.

It would also cost the Mississippi Department Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks millions of dollars annually in federal funds through the Sport Fish Restoration Fund and the Wildlife Restoration Fund.

Bam! There go Mississippi’s wildlife and fishing programs.

Bill sponsor Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, says it is not her intent to cut funding for the state wildlife agency, only to remove the burden of funding wildlife and fishing programs from the pocketbooks of hunters and fishermen.

But, rest assured, the MDWFP would be ruined, if not this year then in the very near future when the state is back on its normal track of revenue shortfalls. The burden would shift from the users to the state’s general fund, which is already strained. That’s tax money from everybody’s pocket.

Because of this idiotic legislation, I write two letters today.

Dear Sen. Sojourner:

Thanks for your consideration, but no thanks. This is one Mississippi sportsman who wants no part of the fiasco that is S.B. 2446.

I am sure that you mean well in your Tea Party way, and I admire your dedication. However, I fear you desperately lack education on this subject and are perhaps incapable of fully understanding the disaster S.B. 2446 would create. Let me explain:

First, if you know anything at all about the hunting and fishing community, you know we have always been very proud of paying our own way. We have paid to rebuild our wildlife populations, and the job we did through our wildlife agency with deer, turkey and fish in Mississippi is unbelievable. Our hunting and fishing opportunities are the envy of the sporting world.

We sportsmen helped build and operate the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery at Enid, a state of the art facility at the heart of the MDWFP’s fish production system that will keep our waters full of fish for the next 50 years.

It was our money that helped secure Messina Landing at Eagle Lake, guaranteeing public access to a great oxbow lake in perpetuity. Our dollars will do the same when the MDWFP takes over Laney’s Landing on Chotard Lake, which will also guarantee access to the adjoining Albermarle and Tennessee Lakes.

Our money helped develop and manage many of the public hunting lands and fishing lakes now available, and we secured those areas for future generations. Our money pays for the MDWFP’s work with private land and lake owners to maximize their wildlife and fishing potential.

I could go on all week compiling a list that our license fees funded.

We spend about $2.1 billion annually in Mississippi to pursue our passions, a lot of that going to the purchase of boats, outboard motors, ATVs and the gas to run them. We buy guns, shells, rods and reels. We pay an excise tax on all that equipment that is collected at the manufacturing level and held by the federal wildlife agency to give back to states for approved wildlife and fishing programs. Last year, between the Sport Fish Restoration and Wildlife Restoration Programs, Mississippi received $14.4 million.

We quit selling licenses and that money goes away. Sure, you can call it a tax because it is an excise tax, and you may hate taxes. But, again, only we users pay it, and I haven’t heard many complaints from our sector.

Quite the opposite, many feel a fee increase is in order. There hasn’t been one since 1991, yet you are proposing abolishing licenses all together. Sure, I know there’s some who would prefer to play for free, but, hey, maybe they need this information, too.

Here’s the kicker that the Tea Party should really despise: Even if Mississippi is pulled out of the federal pay pool, the excise tax we pay won’t go away.

Taxation without benefit, a pot I’m sure you don’t want to stir.

Again, thanks, but no thanks.

Bobby Cleveland

(P.S. I wish you well in appeasing all who have purchased Lifetime Hunting and Fishing Licenses over the last decade. Good luck with that.)

(P.S.S. I also understand that part of your thinking is based on the November ballot initiative that made hunting and fishing a guaranteed right in Mississippi, and you don’t feel that we should pay for what is a right under state law. By that line of thinking, I guess we will see future bills to abolish limits, seasons, regulations and, well … you get the gist.)

Dear Mississippi sportsmen and sportswomen:

I write you today to alert you to a bill in our Mississippi Senate, S.B. 2446, that, on the surface would appear to save you and I each between $8 and $32 a year. Sen. Melanie Sojourner’s bill, based on the premise that hunting and fishing are now a right and not a privilege under our constitution, would eliminate resident hunting and fishing licenses.

Great you say? Think again, because this is far from a bargain.

As you are aware, we have been the sole supporters of all our wildlife and fishery programs, but that’s fair. They are our programs and they benefit us. Most of the sportsmen and sportswomen that I know have always worn that as a badge of honor — “We pay our own way.”

We produce about $70 million in sales tax to the state’s general fund. Everybody in Mississippi benefits from that, but unless they buy a hunting or fishing license, they get it for free.

I’m OK with that, too, mainly because I know that every fish I catch and every animal I see, I can look at and say “I helped put that there.”

I take pride in that, a lot of it.

Sen. Sojourner says she thinks alternative funding of the wildlife agency can come from the state’s general fund. How can this already-stretched fund be stretched to cover the MDWFP’s nearly $70 million budget?

There’s only one way, taxes.

Another problem is what happens when we have a budget shortfall? My bet is that the first programs hit would be hunting and fishing.

So, how does this save us money? How do we benefit?

Remember, too, that we are paying federal excise taxes on our hunting and fishing equipment. A lot of that money is returned to our state to help the MDWFP fund its projects. We quit selling licenses and most, if not all, of that money will go away. It was $14.4 million last year.

What won’t go away is the excise tax. You and I will still be paying it, only our share will go to fund wildlife programs in other states. Floridians, New Yorkers, Californians, Alaskans, Louisianans, Alabamians and, gasp, even Texans will get our money.

Red states, blue states, all states but our state will enjoy our dollars.

I know I would not take the same pleasure in helping pay for the fish they catch and the animals they hunt in other states.

You? I didn’t think so.

So I ask you to write Sen. Sojourner as well as legislators from your districts and tell them how you feel about S.B. 2446. While I don’t think this bill has a chance of passing, let’s not take chances.

There is a lot at stake.

Thanks,

Bobby Cleveland

P.S. How’s that right to hunt and fish thing working for you now?

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Bobby Cleveland
About Bobby Cleveland 1298 Articles
Bobby Cleveland has covered sports in Mississippi for over 40 years. A native of Hattiesburg and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Cleveland lives on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson with his wife Pam.

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