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Sen. Tom Bakk

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Anderson: Hunters, anglers should have a say on taxes

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • April 27, 2012 - 12:54 PM

Minnesota's game and fish laws are often made the way early settlers concocted stew: Just about everything gets thrown in. Such was the case on a recent day when Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, convinced his colleagues in the Capitol's upper chamber to pick the pockets of the state's hunters and anglers.

Granted, Bakk didn't want to take a lot: adding 50 cents to every deer hunting license for wolf "management'' and adding another half-buck to all hunting and fishing licenses sold by the Department of Natural Resources as payment for access to the state's 2.5 million acres of school trust lands, virtually all of which are in the northeast part of the state, from which Bakk hails.

More odorous than the surcharges themselves was the method by which Bakk attached his taxation amendments to the Senate's game and fish bill. Neither issue was raised in committee, giving those most affected a chance to comment.

Instead, Bakk offered the amendments on the Senate floor, where they gained enough favor for passage, setting up a showdown in a conference committee with the senators' House counterparts.

Nonsensical

Consider first the wolf surcharge:

It's beyond ludicrous that deer hunters should pay for wolf "management," including "damage control.'' If deer hunters should be taxed for this, why not manufacturers of, say, widgets? Or, add 50 cents to every beer sold at TCF Bank Stadium next fall?

Better yet, let's hit up Kevin Love. He's a Timberwolf.

None of which makes sense, of course.

Had the Senate rejected Bakk's amendment outright, it would merit no more attention than any of the other wacky ideas floated and sunk this session at the Legislature.

But, remarkably, it passed with bipartisan support, even though wolf-hunting licenses and fees likely to be approved this session by the Legislature would raise sufficient funds to pay for the state's share of wolf management.

Meanwhile, the school trust land amendment Bakk offered on the Senate floor would raise about $1.2 million for schools, taking 50 cents from the approximately 2.4 million licenses the DNR sells each year.

Again, why hunters, trappers and anglers would be taxed and not other individuals who use school trust lands is a fair question.

Certainly four-wheelers and snowmobiles are driven and ridden on these properties. Hikers, birdwatchers, mountain bikers, horse riders -- each also uses school trust lands at some time or another.

Additionally, campers visit these properties each year. Why not send a bill to them?

Here's why: Because no one knows who uses these lands, how much or how often. More important, any surcharges added to any particular group for usage would amount to double-billing, because all taxpayers, including hunters and anglers, are already paying.

One way is through payments issued to counties in lieu of taxes on lands in the trust -- money that comes from the state's general fund. Additionally, hunters and anglers are already being hit up disproportionately, through license purchases that pay into the Game and Fish Fund, which in turn, in part, covers DNR administration of trust lands.

What's more, federal matching funds on hunting and fishing license sales could be threatened by a surcharge.

Give it some time

A related issue is the school trust land management overhaul bill the Legislature has passed -- and that Gov. Mark Dayton should veto.

It is true that management of school trust lands can be improved and that more money can be gained from them for the state's classrooms. It is not true, however, that maximizing economic gain from the properties, through mining, logging or other exploitive uses -- or by imposing on the lands more management bureaucracy -- can be considered in a vacuum, apart from long-term conservation.

Legislators who this session have argued for school trust land management improvements have made some good points that in coming months might be reiterated by the legislative auditor when he studies the issue.

Then, perhaps, a year from now, legislators can make more reasoned judgments about who, if anyone, should pay more for utilizing these properties and whether their management should be changed marginally or significantly.

Meantime, the Legislature, due to adjourn in coming days, would be wise to make this session's game and fish law stew absent the imposition of taxes on people not only without their consent -- but without their input.

danderson@startribune.com

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