Meadville Tribune

February 26, 2013

State Fish and Boat Commission may be cutting off its fins despite its gills

By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG —

On the face of it, the decision by the Fish and Boat Commission to reduce the number of trout produced by the agency’s hatcheries by 750,000 seems odd when you consider that 70 percent of people who buy fishing licenses spend the extra couple bucks to get a trout stamp.

Why would you produce less of the type of fish that people are most interested in catching?

But even if you are not a fisher-person, there is another reason to wonder about the wisdom of the move: The state just put millions in tax dollars into renovating the Bellefonte hatchery.

The Fish and Boat Commission says closing the hatcheries is part of a strategy to narrow a $9 million funding deficit. Closing the hatcheries will save about $2 million.

Just three years ago, the state completed $4.3 million in repairs to the filter system and other fish-breeding stuff at the Bellefonte hatchery. And about half of that money was paid through Growing Greener grant dollars, said Rep. Gary Haluksa, Democratic chair of the House Game and Fisheries Committee.

Spending grant money to fix up facilities you turn around and close is questionable policy no matter how you slice it.

Fish and Boat Commission executive director John Arway told the House committee that they selected Bellefonte as one of the hatcheries to close because it is the most expensive hatchery operated by the agency. There will be no changes at the Linesville hatchery in Crawford County and the Corry hatchery in Erie County.

Haluksa said that the decision to close a facility so soon after the state spent money to renovate it cannot look good.

“That might come around and bite them in the (donkey) the next time they ask for grant money,” Haluska said.

He didn’t say donkey, by the way.

Haluska suggested that the Fish and Boat Commission could generate revenue by raising the cost of a license rather than cutting the number of fish.



Lots of business around Harrisburg this week

n House Republicans have begun circulating the draft of the legislation that would enable the state to privatize the liquor system. Grocery stores, for an initial license fee and annual renewal fee of $25,000, would gain the ability to sell two 6-packs of beer and up to six bottles of wine per customer. Big grocery stores would have to pay a $30,000 fee. Big-box retail stores, for an initial license fee and annual renewal fee of $35,000, would gain the ability to sell beer by the case and up to six bottles of wine. Convenience stores, for a $10,000 fee, would gain the ability to sell one 6-pack of beer. Beer distributors, for $150,000, will gain the right to sell wine and break beer down into six-packs, instead of selling beer by the case. Makes me thirsty just writing about it.

n Budget hearings got underway last week, which for the most part, were pretty run-of-the mill. Budget Secretary Charles Zogby faced a Senate panel at the beginning of the week, with much of the discussion dealing with the pension reform plan. Amidst all of the uncertainty about the legality of changing pension plans in the middle of labor contracts, it seems like it will be months before we really know what is going to happen. “If the governor’s budget were passed just as he presented it, the most surprised person in Harrisburg would be Tom Corbett,” said Sen. John Wozniak after Zogby’s appearance.

n The biggest loser? We talked last week with lawmakers who argued that the basic education funding formula proposed by the Department of Education was not necessarily treating rural schools badly because many of them are already heavily-subsidized. An analysis by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center found that the biggest losers are students in Philadelphia. Since 2010-11, the per pupil funding in Philly has dropped $1,258. But there are rural schools that fare poorly, too. In the list of the 20 biggest losers: Sharon comes in fourth, New Castle comes in ninth, Ferndale in Cambria County comes in 13th and Johnstown comes in 17th.



Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune. He can be reached by email at jfinnerty@cnhi.com or on Twitter @cnhipa.