License Fees Should Never Have Been Raised in the First Place

May 13, 2010

On April 14th, the General Assembly passed a $350 million budget mitigation plan that is expected to close the state’s budget shortfall for the current fiscal year ending June 30th. What was encouraging about this measure is that it was done in a bipartisan manner, something you don’t hear coming out of Hartford very much these days. The plan does not raise taxes, nor does it place any additional burdens on Connecticut’s struggling business community.

The legislation also begins to correct one of the many wrongs that were contained in last year’s budget bill by reducing licensing fees for fishing and hunting, as well as the camping and admission fees to state parks. One of the things that I have talked about over the last eight months is the fact that the biennial budget passed last September by the legislature (along strict party lines) was crafted mainly behind closed doors. In fact, most members of the House and Senate did not get a glimpse of what was contained in the budget until only hours before the final vote.

It should come as little surprise that it took just over one month (mid October to be exact) for the budget, which relied heavily on undetermined cost savings, to be out of balance. If we want to have an open and honest government process, the last thing we should be doing with a bill as important as the budget is not have the proper oversight, both from the legislature itself and the public. Had this been the case, it is my guess that the license fees would have never been increased to begin with.

Last year’s budget bill doubled the license fees for people who make use of Connecticut’s great outdoor resources. We hear it all of the time about how we want people to come and stay and enjoy what our state has to offer. Remember the “Staycation” campaign of the last couple of years? So much has been invested into open space preservation, the environment, state parks, our lakes and streams. Raising the license and admission fees goes against just about everything the state has been promoting.

Once people realized that the fee increases were contained in the budget, the public outcry was fierce and justifiably so. Even some legislators who voted for the budget seemed caught off guard by holding public hearings to address the concerns of displeased constituents. The bottom line is that these license fees should never have been raised in the first place. This is why it should come as little surprise that they were reduced under last month’s mitigation plan.

Unfortunately, the bill did not return license fees to the 2009 levels, but the reduction is a step in the right direction that ultimately helping the state’s budget situation as more people will get licenses in Connecticut. Fishing licenses that were $20 last year and were raised to $40 are now $28; and hunting fees are being reduced from $28 to $19. The bill will also reduce fees for camping and admission fees to state parks, which will be determined in the coming days by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The bill, however, did contain one flaw in that it did not make people who bought their licenses – prior to the bill’s passage – eligible for a refund or a credit on the difference. Considering most people bought them in advance, I co-sponsored legislation to fix this wrong. The measure, which unanimously passed the senate, requires DEP to apply the difference in cost when those affected purchase licenses next year.

It is my belief that this mitigation plan will actually increase revenue to the state because less people will go to neighboring states to find outdoor activities. We have such great resources here in Connecticut and we should be doing everything we can to provide people, especially those who live here, the opportunity to enjoy these resources.

For a full schedule of fishing and hunting fees in Connecticut please feel free to contact me at 1-800-842-1421.