A proposed reduction in funds to fight invasive Asian Carp in Kentucky was removed after a tourism budget meeting in the Kentucky House of Representatives last week.
Governor Andy Beshear’s proposed budget for the 2020-2022 biennium featured an $11 million sweep from the operating fund for the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. The department is a state agency with a mostly self-sustaining funding source: 48% of the department’s budget comes from license and permit sales; 36% comes from federal grants; 9.5% coming from boat registration; 6.5% from other sources. The proposed cut would have swept $5.5 million per year from the department’s boat registration revenue.
Lyon County Judge/Executive Wade White sounded the alarm about the potential cuts in an email sent last Thursday. He said the funding from boater registration fees is earmarked for ramp/lake access maintenance, water enforcement and Asian Carp control. White said he’s not sure if commercial fishermen could continue pulling the invasive species out of the commonwealth’s waterways without the subsidies provided through that funding source.
“…we can't continue our fight if this money is swept from Fish and Wildlife,” White said. “It was collected from boaters with a purpose and now the money is being removed for something else.”
Beshear’s budget proposes the $11 million cut would be offset by more than $12.5 million in federal funds. White said those funds are not new appropriations for the commonwealth, but reimbursements for past projects.
“That was already money that belonged to Fish and Wildlife,” White said. “They were able to put together all the documents, supposedly, to get the rest of the money and that would go to reimburse them for something they’ve done a long time ago, not for fighting Asian Carp.”
A spokesman for Beshear said the proposed budget fully funds the department. He said the governor’s office has committed nearly $2 million to fight Asian Carp with another $4 million from federal sources. Beshear’s office pushed back against critical comments from White, adding “...this is not the first time the judge-executive has spread incorrect information about the governor.”
The proposed cuts were discussed at a hearing of the state’s tourism budget committee on Feb. 26. State Budget Director John Hicks and Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Rich Storm testified before legislators at the hearing. Hicks said knowledge of the incoming federal funds made the potential cuts from the boat registration easier to swallow.
“It is the underlying rationale for even considering a transfer from the motor-boat registration fees,” he said. “Without that $12.5 million unexpected recovery of those funds, there wouldn’t have been any consideration of any funds transfers.”
Storm said he didn’t believe those funds had ever been transferred out of the department before. He said the department would not be at risk for losing future federal appropriations because of the potential transfer. In order to maintain eligibility for federal funds, state fish and wildlife agencies must retain revenue brought in from licensing fees. Hicks said redistributing money from the boat registration revenue to the state’s general fund would not violate the federal rules.
Republican State Representative Chris Freeland represents Lyon and Marshall Counties in the state House. He serves on the chamber’s Tourism & Outdoor Recreation Committee. He said he received hundreds of messages after White’s call for citizens to contact executive and legislative branch officials to express opposition to the proposed cuts. Freeland said he opposes any measure that takes funds away from the lakes in his district.
“That money is constitutionally and statutorily set for the benefit of our lakes and our anglers,” Freeland said. “We are very adamant about keeping that money where it’s supposed to be.”
Legislators considering the state tourism budget agreed with Freeland; the Associated Press reported Friday the Kentucky House of Representatives passed a Republican-crafted budget with a bipartisan vote of 86-10, which did not allow for the proposed sweep from the fish and wildlife budget.
The state budget passed by the House of Representatives will now be considered by the Senate, which will likely make changes to the document.