Last week’s column, which delved into the potential impacts of two bills that would impose a two-buck limit on West Virginia’s deer hunters, didn’t include any estimates as to how much those pieces of legislation might cost.
There was a reason for that.
The fiscal note, which is required for all bills that might affect state-government budgets or the state’s economy as a whole, hadn’t yet been posted on the Legislature’s website. Now it has, and here’s what it says:
“We estimate this bill would result in the loss of more than $1.76 million annually in hunting license sales. In addition, $806,840 in Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration funds would be lost.
“Revenue collections from sales tax are estimated to decrease by over $3.7 million per year, as 53,789 hunters no longer generate more than $63 million in economic activity through their failure to purchase food, lodging, transportation and equipment associated with hunting.”
That’s the overview. Let’s dig down a bit and see how those numbers were arrived at.
The bills, as proposed, would allow hunters to kill up to two bucks and three antlerless deer on their base licenses. Antlerless-deer tags would no longer be sold. To offset that revenue loss, the bills would increase base-license prices for state residents by 110 to 153 percent, depending on the license in question.
The last time hunting-license prices got raised, in 2006, license purchases declined by 20 percent. That was for a 64 percent overall increase; the fiscal note for the two bills projects that 34 to 48 percent of resident hunters would stop buying licenses if a 110-153 percent increase would go into effect.
For non-resident hunters, the toll would be somewhat steeper. Their license prices would rise 110 to 213 percent, depending on the license in question. In 2006, when non-resident fees rose just 10 percent, the number of non-resident license buyers dropped 5 percent. The fiscal note projects that a 110-213 percent increase would scare away 55 percent of current non-resident purchasers.
According to the fiscal note, the number of license buyers, resident and non-resident combined, would drop by 53,789.
The loss of that many license-buyers would cost the state an estimated $1,763,590 in license revenue. The losses would also trigger a projected $806,835 loss in Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration money, federal funds tied to the number of licenses sold annually.
The fiscal note’s projection of $3,792,150 in lost sales tax revenue stems from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study that estimated average annual expenditures for Mountain State big-game hunters. If 53,789 people no longer spend $1,175 a year on hunting, the state would lose $63,202,498 each year in economic activity and an estimated $3,792,150 in sales tax revenue.
The fiscal note came from Division of Natural Resources officials, and are based on assumptions that, in turn, were based on the agency’s past experience with license-fee increases.
The bills’ proponents made assumptions of their own when they proposed the legislation. They estimated that hunters, lured by the promise of bigger bucks created by a two-buck limit, would purchase licenses in sufficient numbers to offset any potential losses.
Who is correct? Readers will need to decide that for themselves. Ultimately, it boils down to whose estimates seem more trustworthy.