Up the Creek: Why can’t Wisconsin have a Conservation Sales Tax?
Up the Creek
Ken M. Blomberg
Imagine living in a state where the agency responsible for protecting and managing natural resources is free to meet that mission – unfettered by funding shortfalls. An agency that can meet head on serious problems like phosphorus in public waterways, nitrates in drinking water, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the deer herd, spreading invasive aquatic plants, serious staff shortages and maintaining wildlife areas and state parks. Like roads, schools and healthcare issues, conservation of our state’s natural resources takes money and is dependent on a state budget managed by the Legislature and Governor. Money, they claim, especially in an election year, that is in short supply.
Now imagine this. A state agency whose vision, mission, and values statements communicate their never-ending pledge to serve the public and enforce the the laws already on the books. The mission of our state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is “to protect and enhance our natural resources: our air, land and water; our wildlife, fish and forests and the ecosystems that sustain all life. To provide a healthy, sustainable environment and a full range of outdoor opportunities. To ensure the right of all people to use and enjoy these resources in their work and leisure. To work with people to understand each other’s views. And in this partnership consider the future and generations to follow.” In addition, their vision is to “excel at protecting and managing natural resources while supporting the economy and the well-being of our citizenry.”
That’s all well and good. But words don’t pay the bills. Last week I spoke of the continued downward trend of participation of license buying hunters and anglers. A trend with no end in sight. Continued decline in revenues. It’s time for a bold transformation in the way we fund the DNR.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, why not copy another state’s success story? Missouri’s Department of Conservation is funded entirely from a Conservation Commission Fund. Sources of revenue include hunting and fishing, commercial and non-resident licenses, a Conservation Sales Tax, and sources of federal assistance including the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program and the U. S. Forest Service. The key component of this funding strategy is the Conservation Sale Tax. The Department receives no general revenue funds from the state, yet the economic impacts of fish, forest, and wildlife management in Missouri exceeds $12 billion of business activity each year. Wisconsin’s conservation fiscal impact is by far much greater.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation,
“The annual budget of your conservation department is less than 1 percent of the total state of Missouri government budget and the Department of Conservation receives no general revenue from the state budget. The conservation sales tax more than pays for itself. The 1/8 of 1 percent sales tax returns almost five times the dollars in state and local taxes alone. In addition, it helps generate billions of dollars in revenue to support Missouri jobs and businesses.”
⅛ of 1 percent sales tax? $0.00125 of each dollar for conservation? Sounds like a bargain to me. Now, if we could only find a politician or three with enough backbone to champion this idea. According to the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation http://congressionalsportsmen.org/policies/state/conservation-sales-tax, Missouri did it, Minnesota did it, Arkansas and Iowa did it. Why can’t Wisconsin?