State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Nanticoke, admits he’s not a fan of blanket resolutions that lack specifics.
But when Mullery read the resolution being drafted by state Rep.Martin Causer of Potter County, he didn’t hesitate to sign on as a co-sponsor.
Causer, who is chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, is circulating a resolution that would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the financial feasibility and potential cost savings of merging the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the state Fish and Boat Commission.
In Causer’s memo, he cited the fact that 49 other states operate efficiently with merged fish and game agencies, and the current financial difficulties faced by the PGC and PFBC make the possibility of a merger a timely topic to consider.
Mullery, who is a member of the Game and Fisheries Committee, agrees.
“I can support a study to look into combining two agencies that, on face value, are inter-related,” he said, taking it a step further.
“I think the Game Commission and Fish and Boat should be combined already and realize the financial gain. I anticipate the study would reveal that a cost-savings would be realized.”
A similar study in 2003 did just that, indicating such a merger would save money by eliminating staff positions, consolidating regional offices and reducing the motor vehicle pool required by two agencies.
The PFBC is already attempting to cut costs by announcing the closures of two state fish hatcheries and scaling back its trout stocking program. The moves would save the agency an estimated $2 million of its $9 million budget shortfall projected for 2017.
Still, a merger might not be the best approach to cutting costs, said PFBC commissioner Norm Gavlick.
Combining agencies will lead to more layers of bureaucracy, he said, which could threaten the effiency of services and programs already in place.
“It changes not only the efficiency, but the timeliness in which things are done,” Gavlick said. “By combining us together and having to deal with all the major programs - deer, trout, Game Lands, the rivers, it could be an overload for just one agency.”
While Gavlick dosn’t believe the PFBC board or staff would support a merger, he does understand why the issue would come up now. The PFBC is hurting financially while the Game Commission is realizing a revenue boost from royalties generated by Marcellus Shale drilling. A merger, he said, would be an easy way for the legislture to funnel more cash to the PFBC.
“In the eyes of the legislators, there might be more motivation this time to support a merger,” Gavlick said. “Still, the last time there was a study it showed that a merger was financially feasible and it still didn’t get done.”
Support for a merger is lacking from the PGC, at least with commissioner Jay Delaney. While the PGC board has yet to discuss the matter, Delaney said the system of two independent agencies has worked for a long time.
Still, Delaney said he has no problem with legislators looking at more cost-effective ways to run government, he just doesn’t believe a merger falls under that category.
“I’m confident if they were to do the study they would see you’re not going to save a lot of money by doing this,” Delaney said, adding that a merger could compromise the level of services the agencies perform for hunters and anglers.
He also said the Game Commission really doesn’t cost general taxpayers anything because it’s funded by the less than 10 percent of the state’s population that purchases hunting licenses.
“The last time the legislature looked at this in 2003 they saw there wasn’t a huge cost-savings factor and sportsmen didn’t support it,” Delaney said. “We have independent agencies to hear from all of the stakeholders and independent boards to make the decision on what’s best. It’s worked well that way for over 100 years.”
Mullery said merged agencies might benefit hunters and anglers because they would then have one outlet to turn to, simplifying the process. A merger of the PGC and PFBC would be similar to the regionalization of police departments, he said, that operate as one central unit with various precincts within.
State Rep. Kevin Haggerty, D-Lackawanna, is also a member of the House Game and Fisheries Committee and, like Mullery, he supports the plan to study the cost-savings of a merger.
Haggerty said with the current economic climate the time is right to look at any way possible to cut costs while not jeopardizing the quality of service.
“If it doesn’t affect the mission of both agencies, I’m for it,” he said. “It’s extremely important that we maintain the integrity of both agencies, and that would have to be figured out before we move forward. But you’re really talking about two things - hunting and fishing, that aren’t all that different.”