27 September 2023- Following a plan drafted out of Harrisburg to take millions from the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Game Fund, hunters and legislators alike are pushing back. In what could seem to be a plan to just shift environmental funding from one department to another, legislators are saying NO and sharply disputing that claim.
Recently, Representative Torren Ecker, who represents Shippensburg, Biglerville, New Oxford, and numerous other rural and forested portions of Cumberland and Adams Counties, penned an op-ed to dispute claims that the shifting of $150M in funds from a non-taxpayer supported fund to the Clean Streams Fund not only hurts hunters and conservationists but also is unconstitutional.
The full letter from Representative Ecker is below.
There is a plan afoot to raid the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Game Fund for $150 million and transfer it to the Department of Environmental Protection’s Clean Streams Fund. While I agree we must keep our waterways clean and pristine for generations to come, stealing from the Game Commission is not the way to do it.
The Game Fund, like the Pennsylvania Game Commission, is not supported by tax dollars. Rather, it is funded by the sale of hunting and furtaking licenses, the sale and lease of natural resources such as timber, gas and oil, and matching federal Pittman-Robertson funds based on license sales.
A move to take money out of the account sets a dangerous precedent for future legislative sessions and violates the trust of the nearly 1 million hunters in Pennsylvania. It would also jeopardize the Pittman-Robertson funding. Already, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined the transfer of Game Fund money is a “diversion of funds” and puts Pennsylvania at risk of losing our share of federal Pittman/Robertson funding, which is over $41 million for 2023 alone.
To remain eligible for federal Pittman-Robertson funding, there are strict parameters on how states can spend sportsmen’s dollars, and each state must match the distributions from the fund with one state dollar for every three federal dollars. Federal guidelines stipulate that if a state’s wildlife management funds, which includes all funds withing the Game Fund, are diverted to other uses, the state may become ineligible for future PR funding. There is no way in which I can see the transfer of $150 million out of the Game Fund to a separate state agency falling within the set guidelines.
Additionally, in 2021 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a decision declaring a transfer of $1.3 billion from natural gas drilling in state forests from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Oil and Gas Fund to the General Fund unconstitutional. A transfer from the Game Fund, controlled by the independent, non-state funded Pennsylvania Game Commission, would be even more egregious and unconstitutional.
Though I firmly believe the courts would rule the transfer unconstitutional and the threat to lost federal dollars would stop the transfer, I have also signed on to a legislative approach toward stopping it.
The legislative proposal by Rep. Dave Maloney (R-Berks), which I have co-sponsored, would keep earmarked Game Fund money in the account of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and not divert it elsewhere. Furthermore, it would also prevent the Game Fund from being raided in the future. Protecting our Commonwealth’s streams is important, but we should not jeopardize one state program to support another.