HARRISBURG – Officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) detailed how they plan to spend their considerable reserves to support the state’s wildlife and aquatic resources during a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee today.
PA Game Commission & PA Fish and Boat Commission
The Game Commission’s budget has increased from approximately $130 million in 2019-20 to approximately $350 million in 2024-25. The Fish and Boat Commission anticipates a budget of approximately $95 million in the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of $3.4 million.
The Game Commission maintains reserves totaling more than $500 million due to a windfall of new revenue from oil and gas leases in the past several years. PGC plans to spend $250 million over the next 10 years to advance priorities originally proposed by Senate Republicans last year to support clean water and wildlife habitat. The plan would NOT jeopardize federal funding from the Pittman-Robertson Act.
Fish and Boat Commission reserves currently total more than $150 million, approximately $56 million of which is discretionary. PFBC detailed ongoing efforts to use its reserve funds to improve dams, fish hatcheries and boat ramps throughout the state.
Concerns were raised about the significant growth in PGC’s budget and whether the new spending would be one-time expenses or recurring expenses that could create future budget holes.
The impact of PGC land purchases on local taxpayers was questioned. The Game Commission currently owns more than 1.5 million acres of land, which shifts a greater portion of the property tax burden onto homeowners and small businesses.
PGC denied offering a position or any advocacy on legislation approved by the Senate last year to use oil and gas royalty revenue to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. Questions were also raised about PGC’s conversations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services pertaining to this issue.
PGC testified it will continue to monitor hunters’ opinion of the change in the opening day of deer rifle season from Monday to Saturday.
PFBC spending to improve infrastructure for anglers was detailed.
PGC was encouraged to support wildlife rehabilitation centers.
An update was provided on PFBC programs to support disabled veterans.
PGC negotiates with the Office of Administration on employment contracts, which creates challenges in hiring.
Department of Agriculture
The state’s efforts to combat avian influenza were highlighted during a hearing with Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding today.
Farming education initiatives and the performance of tax credit programs for PA farmers were also discussed.
Concerns were also raised about Gov. Josh Shapiro’s plan to legalize adult-use marijuana. The budget includes $5 million for the proposed adult-use cannabis program.
Sen. Martin on combatting avian influenza, creating rapid response teams, storage of the state’s current emergency stockpile, efforts to bring a large milk processor to PA, improvements to Farmers Market Nutrition programs, and more.
An update was provided on water and soil sampling in communities near the Norfolk Southern train derailment last year. No issues have been identified, although the department intends to remain vigilant.
The impact of misguided energy policy on preserved farmland was explored.
Concerns were raised about the potency and public health impacts associated with legalization of adult use cannabis. The Secretary confirmed that no cross-cabinet discussions have taken place about what the public health costs would be to taxpayers.
An update was provided on the department’s efforts to protect pollinators.
Questions were raised about how to make the best use of funding for hardwoods research and development.
The department’s response to the most recent avian influenza outbreak in Northumberland County was applauded.
Gov. Shapiro’s plan to divert funding from the Racehorse Development Fund was scrutinized.
An update was provided on the Fresh Food Financing Initiative program.
The proposed increase in the Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory was questioned.
The success of the tax credit program for beginning farmers championed by Senate Republicans was highlighted.
The department was encouraged to explore ways to make better use of the state’s AgriLink Program that provides low-interest loans to support Pennsylvania farmers.
The secretary provided an update on improvements to the state’s Dog Law.
You can find recaps and video from every Senate budget hearing at PASenateGOP.com.
CONTACT: Jason Thompson