The Reynolds Game Farm costs approximately $750,000 to operate, annually; the bulk of this is cost of staff/labor. On the surface, the Governor's proposal and reasoning seem rational. After all, the State's current economic conditions demand cuts across the board to attempt to close an ever-widening budget deficit. Certainly, anywhere the Governor can save the taxpayers money is something to pursue.
The Deputy Commissioner of the Environment, Judith Enck, echoed this position in an email, dated Dec. 22, 2008 when she stated the following:
"Recreational hunting is an important economic and recreational activity. The more than 60,000 pheasant hunters in New York contribute to the State economy by spending money on hunting trips and equipment. However, with the State facing a $13.7 billion deficit in 2009-2010, the benefits of this program do not justify the $750,000 expended annually for the Reynolds Game Farm. Indeed, the Governor's Budget made similar choices in all areas; major cuts are proposed in education, health care, state facilities and many other areas of importance."
Indeed, other organizations, chiefly the Humane Society of the United States, echoed this justification in a letter of support of this move, dated Dec. 9, 2008, which stated that the taxpayers should not pay for such activities, which reduces the effectiveness of the fund that delivers wildlife management to NYS.
Unfortunately, for the Governor and Albany officials, funding of the game farm and pheasant program does not come from the taxpayers. This notion being put forth is effectively a lie.
The pheasant farm receives 100% of its funding from the NY Conservation Fund. Unless you purchase a sporting license in NYS (hunting, fishing or trapping), you pay not one penny towards this $750,000.00. Therefore, the measure will not save the taxpayer any money at all.
However, through attempting to save this voluntarily contributed money, Governor Paterson is about to perpetrate one of the great injustices upon NY taxpayers we have seen in a while.
Facts are facts, folks, and according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, in 2006, NY pheasant hunting had an economic impact of close to $60 million annually. Through this economic activity, the general fund benefits through collecting fuel tax revenue, sales tax revenue, additional income and business tax revenue, bed tax revenue, etc. Here are some top-line numbers, straight from publicly available reports.
Fuel Consumption: In 2006, 52,000 resident pheasant hunters on average spent $336.00 on gasoline and diesel fuel traveling to and from their hunting grounds. This breaks down to roughly 100 gallons of gasoline consumed by each pheasant hunter per season, based on 2006 gasoline prices per gallon. According to Syracuse University, the NYS Fuel tax amounts to close to $0.63/ gallon. Doing some simple math, the fuel tax receipts that will be lost with the termination of the pheasant program is approximately $3.28 Million.
Sales Tax: In 2006, the average pheasant hunter spent $227.00 on equipment and gear related to their pursuits. This equates to $11.8 MIL is economic activity on goods which are taxable. At the rate of 8.75%, combined state and county sales tax rates, this represents another loss of $1.03 MIL!
We have not even examined the additional income tax from jobs, extra hours, etc, not to mention the taxes associated with retailers and diners purchasing additional inventories to meet the increased demand during the pheasant season, nor have we touched on the hotel/lodging taxes that also head to the general fund and benefit everyone - all from a voluntarily funded program.
Additional benefits realized through this voluntary investment revolve around two educational programs connected with the bulk of the pheasant program, the day-old chicks. One program involves our youth volunteering to rear pheasants through the Cornell Cooperative Extensions in each county, better known as the 4-H. Youths aged 8-16 volunteer to raise these birds, which are bought by the County Federated sportsmen (again, voluntary money), and this support includes feed and equipment. This program teaches youth important lessons in responsibility, instills of love of wildlife, and successfully sends these future guardians of our natural resources on the path to becoming stewards of our ecosystems.
The day-old chick program also delivers prisoner rehabilitation opportunities through Safari Club International, where medium-security inmates rear these birds while learning the value of life; a benefit realized by all NYers upon their return to society.
So, as stated, the Governor and Enck seek to save $750,000. In reality, they are costing NY taxpayers millions of dollars in revenue, while eliminating two highly successful social programs that would cost the state millions to operate. Does that really sound like progress to you?
One never reduces a deficit by reducing income, yet that is exactly what Paterson and Enck will accomplish. The time is now to stand up and demand the state not cut programs that deliver nothing but positives, keeping everyone's taxes lower, simply by eliminating voluntary expenditures that only a fraction of the people chooses to contribute to. After all, sportsmen's programs do just that. Our efforts that we fund on our own benefit everyone, through healthier wildlife, more abundant animals, and large sums of tax dollars being funneled into the General Fund.
Mr. Governor, keep the farm open, and the pheasant program running. The state can ill-afford to lose the millions that this program generates.
Moreover, it does not cost the taxpayers a penny to realize these benefits.
Rich Davenport lives in Erie County and is editor for www.weloveoutdoors.com