Louisiana departments of Wildlife and Fisheries, Environmental Quality to seek fee increases

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

The heads of two state agencies – one in charge of hunting and fishing, the other overseeing environmental protection – told the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday they intend to seek higher fees.

Jack Montoucet, who leads Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, wants to raise the price of user fees such as the cost of recreational hunting and fishing licenses. He said the fees have not been adjusted in 20 years even though the department has taken on additional duties.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has included a $17 million infusion in his proposed budget for next fiscal year as a short-term fix. Montoucet didn’t lay out the details of his fee increase proposal, which the Louisiana Legislature would have to approve, but he said it would raise an additional $17 million annually.

Declining mineral revenue and people buying lifetime licenses are among the main reasons for the revenue decline, officials said.

Fees paid by users, not general taxes, typically have funded his department, and Montoucet said that’s the way it should be.

“Our programs are user-pay,” he said. “If you use the resources, you pay for the resources.”

Montoucet said he proposed restructuring fees in 2018 but was shot down by lawmakers who said the fund that supports the department wasn’t empty.

“The Legislature said, ‘You’ve still got money in your Conservation Fund. When you don’t have any money, come back and see us,’ ” Montoucet said. “I’m back.”

Chuck Carr Brown, head of the Department of Environmental Quality, said he plans to propose fee increases for companies DEQ regulates.

“We actually have some fees that only are $50,” he said. “We can’t even pay our people with those types of fees.”

Brown said the department wants to implement higher minimum fees look at increasing “tonnage fees” from companies that emit air pollutants, in hopes of generating an additional $5 million per year to “prop the department up through the end of this administration and through the next.”

Raising fees requires the approval of at least two-thirds of the members in the House and Senate.