That’s where Georgia House Motor Vehicles Chairman Rep. Tom Rice left Wildlife License Plates for trout, bobwhite quail and nongame species Wednesday afternoon. In a surprise move, the Chairman refused to allow a vote on Vice Chairman Rep. Bubber Epps’ HB 730 which would immediately waive the $25 plate manufacturing fee, lower the purchase and renewal fee from $35 to $25, and, instead of the current $10, send $19 the first year and $20 on renewals to GA DNR for wildlife management. After cutting off public comment on HB 730, Chairman Rice brought HB 180 to a vote. Many organizations and citizens that travelled to the Capitol were not allowed to address the committee and a substitute HB 180 passed which maintained the $25 manufacturing fee, $35 purchase and renewal fee and increased the funds going to all specialty license plate sponsors from $10 to $25 but not until 2020! That gives 6 years for the general Assembly to do nothing!
Georgia Trout Unlimited is appalled that many sportsmen and conservation groups as well as individuals were denied the opportunity to participate in the legislative process when comment on HB 730 was abruptly terminated. Moreover, for the next six years, the General Fund is able to continue to grab 60% of the fees that most Georgians think is going to the organization or cause depicted on their license plate. The revenue stream may end up being much less than what Chairman Rice expects. Wildlife Plate renewals have already dropped 70%. Sadly, that trend will most likely continue with folks being required to pay $60 to obtain a tag and $35 per year to maintain it while the General Fund receives the majority of the fees. Georgians have already figured out that they can cancel the specialty plate and write a check for the plate fees to the organizations they are supporting with their cause getting much more money than filtering it through the Georgia DMV. True, HB 180 would send $5 more per plate to GA DNR than HB 730, but not for 6 years! That is 3 General Assembly sessions and 3 Governor’s elections down the road. In politics, that’s a long, long time and anything can happen to change the fee allocation. Don’t expect those Georgians who turned in their Wildlife Plates to repurchase them in 6 years.
If those economics aren’t bad enough, this strategy undercuts a powerful economic force. We should be sending GA DNR the funds it needs to attract more sportsmen. According to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, over 1 million Georgia sportsmen spend $2.3 billon creating nearly 40,000 jobs. That’s more jobs than Ft. Benning, Georgia’s largest employer, and more jobs than Delta Airlines and Hewlett Packard combined. Annual spending by Georgia sportsmen is nearly 4 times the revenues of the Atlanta Braves, Falcons and Hawks combined. Sportsmen in Georgia generate $216 million in state and local taxes. You would expect the General Assembly to do everything reasonable to support this economic activity. Instead, 60% of Wildlife Plate fees are sent to the General Fund for who knows what!
There are many worthy causes that are supported by specialty license plates. Quite frankly, all of the specialty plate fee minus manufacture and handling should be directed to those organizations. What makes the Wildlife License Plates different is that their areas are funded by Georgia taxes. GA DNR Wildlife Resources is a line item on the state budget. Individual Georgians that fish, hunt or enjoy nongame species can voluntarily direct their money for wildlife management. For that reason alone, HB 730 should pass.
Georgia Trout Unlimited looks at this as a bad deal for trout and wildlife management.
Kevin F. McGrath
Advocacy Chairman, Georgia Trout Unlimited