WA Senate Budget Wouldn’t Merge WDFW; Does Reduce ‘Back Office’ Funding

The state Senate’s 2011-13 proposed budget would not merge the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife with the State Parks and Recreation Commission and Recreation and Conservation Office, as Governor Gregoire had requested last December, but parts of the plan do look like consolidation.

Details from the operating budget that Senate Ways and Means Committee leaders Sen. Ed Murray and Sen. Joseph Zarelli released this morning reduce expenditures at the headquarters level and encourage WDFW, Parks, DNR, DOE and the Department of Agriculture “to work together to achieve efficiencies in managing the natural resources of the state.”

“There are some aspects of consolidation in administrative functions — what we call back office — so we’re trying to understand that more,” says WDFW deputy director Joe Stohr in Olympia.

“Our staff is still trying to interpret and figure out what it means for State Parks,” adds Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Sandy Maeling.

Previously, Senate Bill 5669 would have merged WDFW, Parks and RCO into a Department of Fish, Wildlife and Recreation.

The House’s budget bill, approved last weekend, left out consolidation.

Gregoire had called for merging the agencies as one way to deal with the state’s multi-billion-dollar revenue shortfall. It and a host of other mergers would have saved $30 million over the next two years. She also wanted to cut out the Fish & Wildlife Commission and other boards to save $7.4 million.

The Senate’s budget must first be passed and then reconciled with the House’s version before going to the governor.

“I’m happy to see inclusion of our four revenue proposals,” Stohr added. “They’re in all three budgets, the governor’s, House and Senate.”

He says the Discover Pass and license fee increase package are slated for discussion this afternoon by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Stohr noted the lateness of the budgetary hour — the session ends April 24 — and the differences still to be hashed out.

“So we’ll be working with staff and legislators,” he said.

An overview of Zarelli and Murray’s plan states:

The 2011-13 biennial budget for natural resources is approximately $1.3 billion and represents approximately 2.6 percent of the overall budget. Of this $1.3 billion, the general fund accounts for less than 21 percent or approximately $319 million. Some of the primary activities funded with these resources include environmental protection; water quality; fish, shellfish, and game harvest; food safety and commodity control; land and resource management; operation and maintenance of camp sites; and forest fire protection.

Given the current economic forecast, the General Fund-State appropriations for the natural resource agencies were reduced and crafted with the following goals:

1. Protect and preserve the health of the state’s natural resources,

2. Continue to provide public access to the state’s natural resources; and

3. Transition as much as possible to a user-supported funding structure

INCREASES

PROTECT AND RESTORE PUGET SOUND – $18MILLION GENERAL FUND-FEDERAL

The Department of Fish and Wildlife is entering into agreement with the US Environmental Protection Agency for $18 million in funds to protect and restore near shore habitats in the Puget Sound. Funding will be distributed to improve the efficiency of existing stewardship programs.

MAJOR SAVINGS

MAKING NATURAL RESOURCES AGENCIES USER-SUPPORTED – $49MILLION GENERAL FUND-STATE SAVINGS

The Parks and Recreation Commission, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Department of Natural Resources will all transition to a more user-supported funding structure. The agencies will issue annual passes that cost $30 and will allow purchasers to access all state parks and DFW and DNR recreational areas. The agencies will also offer $10 passes that will afford purchasers the same access for a single day. Campers, hunters, and fishers, off-road vehicle owners, and recreational boaters who already pay for access to specific recreation areas through existing permit and registration fees will not be required to purchase either the annual or day-use permits for those specific recreation areas.

HUNTING AND FISHING LICENSES – $4MILLION GENERAL FUND-STATE SAVINGS, $6 MILLION STATE WILDLIFE ACCOUNT

The Department of Fish and Wildlife will be changing its hunting and fishing license fees. The department has reviewed its fee structure as compared to other states and in consultation with stakeholders. Forty percent of current fees will either decrease in value or be eliminated. The remaining 60 percent will increase. On average, the fees will increase by 16 percent for residents; 12 percent for non-residents, 2 percent for youths; and decrease by 4 percent for persons with disabilities and veterans.

ADMINISTRATIVE SAVINGS AND CONSOLIDATION – $5MILLION GENERAL FUND-STATE SAVINGS

Back-office functions will be reduced in the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Ecology. Agency General Fund-State appropriations for administration will be reduced by approximately 12 percent and executive administration will be reduced by approximately 15 percent. The agencies are encouraged to work together to achieve efficiencies in managing the natural resources of the state.

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