Legislators stealing money from sportsmen to balance budget

Once again, the governor and legislators who are grappling with a budget shortfall of between $2.2 and $2.5 billion have decided that they are going to steal sportsmens' dollars.

And it's time that we as sportsmen step up and say to them, "Stop it!"

This isn't the first time this thievery has happened.

In 2008, the governor and legislature swept (a nice way to say stole) $7.5 million from the Arizona Game & Fish Department in an attempt to balance the state's budget.

That included taking more than $4 million from the Watercraft License Fund, $395,000 from the Off Highway Vehicle Recreation Fund and almost $3 million of department funds that had just been received from the La Osa sheep settlement.

That was just from G&F. They also hit the State Parks Department with sweeps that totaled more than $5 million.

They took $1.5 million out of Parks Off-highway Vehicle Fund and more than $4 million from the State Lake Improvement Fund.

So why should sportsmen be outraged over all these sweeps? Simple.

Game & Fish receives no general tax dollars from the state of Arizona to run that agency.

The primary funding of the department is through sportsmen dollars. These funds come from license and permit fees and through federal monies that are derived from excise taxes on the sale of hunting and fishing equipment, including ammunition.

According to Suzanne Gilstrap, editor of the Arizona Sportsmen's Connection, sportsmen generate approximately 80 percent of the Game & Fish's revenue in any given year.

Sportsmen have long supported the department through fees increases with the notion that the money would be used for Arizona's wildlife and habitat.

Sportsmen supported self-imposed fee increases in 1999 and 2005.

But with these sweeps, a lot of that money is never used for wildlife or to improve habitat but instead only to ease the state's budget woes.

While some legislators will say these funds are merely being "borrowed" during tough times, consider this.

From 2002-2005, the Legislature swept $15 million from various G&F funds.

In 2006, when the state was flush with money, the Arizona Sportsman For Wildlife group asked the Legislature to repay the funds taken in these sweeps and all they got was $3.5 million. The rest was gone, and gone forever.

So what does all this mean to you and me?

First of all, its time to demand that the Arizona Game & Fish Commission pass a resolution stating they oppose these continued sweeps.

Currently, more than 20 conservation groups including the Mohave Sportsman Club have signed a petition asking the commission to step up and fulfill their duty to protect and maintain habitat and wildlife in this state.

Then it's time to tell the governor and Legislature to stop taking money out of agencies like G&F and the state parks.