License Fees May Be Going Up

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Increasing license fees in the not too distant future will be necessary if the Department of Game and Fish is to maintain services at the current level, the State Game Commission was told during its April meeting.

"Long-term projections show that current income levels will not provide enough money to fund Department programs beyond the year 2005," said Patrick Block, chief of the Department's Administrative Services Division.

License fees and federal excise taxes on certain sporting arms and ammunition, fishing tackle and boating fuels provide the bulk of the agency's $27 million budget. License fees provide about $12 million each year and the excise taxes, administered by the Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provide approximately $8 million a year. Less than one percent of the agency's operating budget is derived from taxes paid to New Mexico's General Fund.

License fee increases must be approved by the State Legislature and the Governor. The last fee increase was implemented in 1997. Only two legislative sessions will occur before funding becomes critical for the agency, Block said.

"License fees are set by the Legislature," he said, "but inflation is beyond its control."

Drought and resulting forest fires have impacted the sale of New Mexico's fishing licenses, Block said. The spring sale of fishing licenses was off by $1 million in 2002, although once the National Forests reopened after the fire season the license sales rebounded to a degree and total income was off by only $650,000.

In addition to the financial impacts of drought and fires, several long-term capital projects being financed in the near future also are reducing the agency's cash balance. Among those are: $3 million to restore the outlet at Eagle Nest Dam (Game and Fish funds comprised $9 million of the $20 million used in 2002 to purchase the lake and dam); $1.3 million to construct a warmwater fish hatchery at Santa Rosa; $1,077,000 for remediation of the Game Commission-owned Terrero Mine, and $500,000 for a Conservation Education Center at the Department's Santa Fe office.

"This agency is serving the state's citizens in many ways, but it takes money to do it," Block said. "We hope the license buyers and the Legislature understand that we are subject to inflation and cost increases just like everybody."