Politics, revenge, and punishment are all believed by some as to why the Ohio State Senate last week jettisoned a proposal to increase the fee (taxes, if you will and if you like) paid by non-residents to hunt deer in Ohio.
Erased from a bill designed to provide supplemental funding for various state governmental agencies, the fee increase proposal came as a surprise to some officials of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and its Division of Wildlife.
Then again, maybe it should not have proven such a shock, still others say.
What the Wildlife Division wanted to do – hoped to do – was increase the basic hunting license fee which non-residents pay. Along with such an increase the Wildlife Division also wanted to hike the deer tag fee for non-residents as well.
Under the proposal’s intent was to raise the current annual non-resident general hunting license to $149, up from the current $125.
As for an either sex tag, under the proposal a non-resident would have paid $99 versus the current $24 that is now applicable, just as it is for Ohio resident hunters.
Likewise a second, antlerless tag would have cost a non-resident $28 instead of the present $14.
But "would" is not the same as "will," of course.
And at no time, however, did anyone in either the Kasich Administration or the Ohio legislature ever indicate that the parallel fees charged to Ohio resident hunters should see similar rises.
Never-the-less the effort to boost the non-residents fees – estimated to generate up to $3 million in additional revenue annually – is DOA.
The move by a select crew of state senators to thwart the fee increases was later backed by a six-member Ohio House and Ohio Senate Conference Committee, designed to iron out any differences. In the end the committee’s four Republican and two Democrat legislators agreed to keep the lid on the fee increases.
All of which caught the Ohio Division of Wildlife chief Scott Zody puzzled for an answer.
Zody said he was not aware of any opposition to the fee increases, too.
Which just might be a surprise in and of itself.
In speaking with contacts in the know, the legislative rejection came as little or even, no, surprise.
The reasons cited include the ever-present game of statehouse politics. For longer than just about anyone can remember the ODNR’s Division of Wildlife and its backers have been viewed as the bully on the block.
Over the years more than a few present and former state legislators have grumbled how the Wildlife Division’s top guns and political playmates have played hardball when a softer touch was needed or would have accomplished the same but without ruffling any feathers.
Other critics have mused under their breath that the Wildlife Division stung any number of current legislators regarding the agency’s present management policies and programs as they relate to the white-tailed deer and its associated hunting seasons, rules, and regulations.
Lastly but by no means last is the outright chagrin, disappointment and head-shaking that went on – is still going on – over the meandering and just plain bizarre affairs that have come to light in the Wildlife Division’s District Four (southwest Ohio).
With absolutely no intent to lay blame or make unfair accusations, the charges, counter-charges, lawsuits, arrests and the like that have occurred in southwest Ohio and involving the Wildlife Division certainly have not aided the agency in making its case. For almost anything, including its seeking non-resident hunting fee increases.
After all, elected legislative officials do not operate in a vacuum. Likewise they are fully aware that revenge is a dish that is best served cold.
Whether that last political truism is – well, truthful – up to each person to assess and determine.
For now the most logical look at the fee increases strongly suggests they won’t be brought up again until the next legislative session. That session won’t begin until January.
Thus, the very earliest a non-resident Ohio deer hunter will have to dig deeper into his or her wallet is the 2015 Ohio deer-hunting season. And just as possibly, not until Ohio’s 2016 deer-hunting season.
That should be enough time for the Wildlife Division to mend some political fences and get its internal house in order.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn