Two legislative proposals have been filed that in their current form would jeopardize 85 percent of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s budget. HJR 8 would ask voters to change the Constitution to eliminate the conservation sales tax, which generates around $110 million. Senate Bill 56 would eliminate the sale of hunting, fishing, and trapping permits to Missouri residents, which generates up to $40 million in revenue and federal aid.
Department of Conservation Deputy Director Tim Ripperger says if these bills pass many conservation programs may lose funding.
“It would impact more than just sportsmen in the state, it would be a huge loss and impact on the entire conservation program,” said Ripperger.
State Representative Craig Redmon filed HJR 8, which would eliminate the one-eighth of one percent conservation tax by June 30, 2017, but told Missourinet he doesn’t actually want to see the tax eliminated.
“It has to be reviewed or sunset somehow because if you just have a funding source that never has an end to it, I don’t think that’s good responsible politics,” said Redmon.
Redmon told Missourinet he proposed the resolution as a starting point for debate, expecting that he and the Department will work out a compromise that would build a sunset or periodic review into the tax.
Ripperger says the Department wouldn’t want a review or sunset on that tax.
“The people of Missouri voted the tax in from an initiative petition,” said Ripperger.
“If that were eliminated… at some point we would have to figure out as a state then how do we support conservation in the state. Is it with general revenue funds? Which then takes that general revenue away from some other agency or some other cause the state is working hard on,” said Ripperger.
The Department of Conservation does not receive general revenue funds.
Senator Brian Munzlinger is proposing Senate Bill 56.
Munzlinger says because Missouri citizens already pay the conservation sales tax, he sees the sale of permits as a form of double taxation.
“You would still have out-of-state residents that would still have to pay … but it would allow Missouri residents to not have to pay twice for what they’ve already paid for,” said Munzlinger.
Ripperger said Missouri sportsmen have a long legacy of supporting conservation through fees and licenses, and said Missouri sportsmen worked in support of the initiative petition that placed that conservation sales tax on the ballot in 1976.
He said that tax also benefits the state economically.
“A dedicated conservation sales tax doesn’t place a financial burden on the state budget for conservation management activities. In fact, it’s an income generator for less than 1 percent of the state budget in Missouri. Conservation has a total economic return when you consider fish and wildlife recreation and the forest product industry at over 12 billion annually and supports over 100 thousand jobs statewide,” said Ripperger.
Ripperger says if both of these proposals pass as written, other conservation programs that might lose funding or be cut would include the Department’s work with rural fire departments, road rock for counties, and nature centers throughout the state.