Legislative priorities

2020 budget and legislative priorities

History of budget issues

  • During the 2008 recession, the Department’s general fund appropriation was reduced by $38 million.
  • Since then the state has passed four rounds of cost of living adjustments, increasing expenditures in the state wildlife account by $29.7 million. Only a portion of those costs were covered by the agency’s last fee increase in 2011, which raised about $8 million per year, leaving the agency with a structural deficit.
  • At the same time, the agency has experienced increasing costs associated with prosecuting fisheries under ESA and reducing human-wildlife conflict with a growing state population.

Results of budget and structural review/audit

  • In 2017, the legislature provided the agency with one-time funding of $10M with instructions to do a performance audit, zero based budget analysis and develop a long-term funding plan.
  • The audit identified a growing shortfall and several legislative mandates that were never funded. It recommended improvements in communications and performance monitoring and encouraged the agency to work to reduce the complexity of its account structure and increase budget transparency.

Engaging the public in building the agency’s budget proposals

  • The agency established a twenty-four member budget and policy advisory group (BPAG) to help identify budget priorities and develop a long-term funding plan.
  • The BPAG helped develop a vision of what the agency should look like moving forward and recommended the agency look for a broader based funding source to fill its structural deficit, while still relying on user fees for the recreation-based components of the mission.

2019 session

  • In 2019, the agency requested $31M to fill a structural deficit and $30M in new enhancements.  Three-fourths of the combined request was for State General Fund, while one-fourth was proposed to be resolved by an across-the-board recreational license fee increase.  In the end, the legislature provided $24M in one-time state general fund and did not increase fees or extend the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.  In addition, the legislature approved $9.4M in additional costs that were not backed by revenue, further widening the structural deficit.

2020 and beyond

2020 policy bill proposals

Concerning transparency in the State Wildlife Account

Proposal Overview:

The State Wildlife Account (SWA) is divided into various subaccounts with different restrictions on use. The agency’s reliance on this fund has grown over the years due to uncertain and decreased funding from the State General Fund (GF-S). It is necessary for the agency to know how much of the SWA is flexible enough to make up for that GF-S funding that is lost. To that end, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) requests that WDFW begin the process of formally separating the State Wildlife Account (Fund 104) into two funds – one with restrictions on use and one that is unrestricted, with the goal of agency request legislation that will formalize this change in statute.  This change will benefit WDFW, OFM, the legislature, and all stakeholders by providing more transparency on the financial health of the agency.

Summary of Need:

With increasing pressure on the State Wildlife Account (SWA), it is crucial that WDFW have as much transparency as possible with the Governor’s and Legislative budget staff regarding available fund balance. When viewed as a whole, the State Wildlife Account balance looks solvent because both the unrestricted and restricted sides are being taken into account. The legislature is often unaware of certain SWA account restrictions and has previously attempted to utilize funding sources that are restricted to specific WDFW activities. In recent years, this has led to the legislature giving the agency fund authority on the unrestricted side that is not backed by revenue, leading to a shortfall in that side of the account. Separating the SWA would provide more clarity on these funding sources and issues.

Fiscal Impact:

  • The bill is fiscally neutral and will not otherwise affect the uses of any of the restricted accounts.

Concerning fish and wildlife enforcement

Proposal Overview:

Infractions: Many violations of the criminal code in Title 77 are considered too severe for first time offenses, with current law classifying many offenses as misdemeanors. A first-time violation of these statutes places someone in criminal status and roughly 40 percent of violations annually (4,275) involve first time offenders. Deputy prosecutors may dismiss, or amend down to a different charge, for an offense by a first time offender. When prosecutors dismiss misdemeanor wildlife offenses it decriminalizes these activities, allowing repeat offenders to poach without fear of punishment.  Furthermore, issuing infractions for first-time offenses allows WDFW officers to immediately serve the infraction, similar to writing a speeding ticket.  With the proposed bill, infractions will be filed directly with the court and will not depend upon prosecutor involvement. The recipient of an infraction can either pay their fine in court or contest the infraction, similar to a traffic ticket. Correcting the behavior of low-level first-time offenders with an infraction, rather than a misdemeanor, is more likely to keep hunters and fishers participating in the sport.

Conviction and forfeiture of animals: Wildlife offenses are frequently processed as infractions or criminal code offenses that do not qualify as a “conviction” under RCW 77.15.050. These infractions and criminal code offenses do not trigger the forfeiture of animal parts. Under current statutes, the Department may be liable to an offender for the return of, or payment for, seized fish, shellfish, or wildlife if the offender’s case resolves with a wildlife infraction or a plea agreement wherein the offender’s fish and wildlife offense is amended by the court to a lesser offense than the fish and wildlife offense that the offender originally committed. The conviction definition in RCW 77.15.050 is incomplete and allows defendants and attorneys to exploit the possibility of a lower-level infraction charge. The definition of “conviction” in RCW 77.15.050 would be updated to require an infraction, a lesser offense, to result in the Department maintaining possession of seized animals. 

Align Department recruitment with other civil service and law enforcement agencies:  In 2018 the legislature amended the eligibility requirement for most civil service and law enforcement agencies to include “lawful permanent resident” as an alternative to requiring United States citizenship to serve as a law enforcement officer. The Department’s statutes weren’t captured during that revision, leaving our enforcement personnel as the only law enforcement in the state that cannot appoint lawful permanent residents to serve as police officers.

2019 Legislative Session

Broadening the eligibility for a reduced recreational hunting and fishing license rate for resident disabled hunters and fishers

This proposed bill would expand eligibility on reduced rate fishing and hunting licenses to residents with a permanent disability documented by a medical provider. Current state law limits this eligibility to only certain types of disabilities, which leaves out thousands of other Washingtonians with disabilities. The agency proposes to offer any resident with a permanent disability a discount of 50% on both a resident hunting and fishing license.

Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses

The agency's intent in bringing forward this bill is to increase recreational license fees by 15%, to have the authority to increase recreational license fees in the future based on inflation, to extend the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead endorsement by five years, and to expand our capacity to encourage hunting and fishing recruitment opportunities. For encouraging recruitment opportunities, this bill raises the age at which one qualifies for youth discounts up to 16, allows temporary fishing licenses for popular fishing locations, allows the agency to bundle promotional packages and offer discounts, and creates a discount for new hunters upon completion of their hunter education training course.

2019 budget development

WDFW has experienced chronic budget shortfalls due to a gap between available funding and required spending. The agency submitted a budget proposal requesting $31 million in funding from general funds, which would meet 75% of WDFW's budget needs. The remaining 25% of funding is being requested through HB 1708/SB 5692 as a 15% increase in recreational hunting and fishing license fees. To cushion the impact on people who buy multiple hunting and fishing licenses, this 15% increase includes caps of $7 for fishing and $15 for hunting license packages.

Southern resident orca recovery

The population of southern resident killer whales has dropped to 74, the lowest number in more than 30 years. These endangered marine mammals are struggling to raise calves, due to increased disturbances from vessels, high levels of contaminants, and a lack of prey, such as chinook salmon. The governor's budget for 2019-21 biennium includes $20.8 million for boosting hatchery production of salmon, increasing the enforcement of laws protecting shorelines, reducing vessel traffic near orcas, and pursuing new options for managing the amount of predation on salmon from fish, seals, and sea lions.

Hatchery salmon production

Salmon hatchery production can play an important role in increasing prey abundance for southern resident orcas. The governor's operating budget includes $11.6 million for hatchery production with $6.35 million for increasing 24.1 million salmon. The remaining $5.25 million will be used for existing hatchery production. In addition, our co-managers are seeking $3 million State General Fund for WDFW to pass through to western Washington treaty tribes to increase salmon production to benefit southern resident killer whales.

Protecting state's investment in hatcheries and lands

Our capital budget request includes funding for 63 smaller projects designed to reduce the current backlog of repair and restoration work on department lands and facilities. Each of these minor works projects is valued at less than $1 million and can be competed in a single biennium. The estimate cost of our proposed minor works project list for 2019-21 is $24.4 million.

Funding and reforming the payments in lieu of taxes program

WDFW is requesting $762,000 from the 2019-21 budget to fully fund Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILT). In addition, the agency has recommendations to revise the PILT program. Fully funding and revising the program would meet the legislature's commitment to counties, address concerns expressed by county officials, and allow for public access to outdoor recreation.

2019-21 legislative priorities

This factsheet explains WDFW's legislative priorities as well as the fiscal impact to and the potential revenue gain for the agency.

WDFW's Legislative Mandate

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife operates as the state's principal agency for species protection and conservation, under a mandate defined in Title 77 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). That legislative mandate directs the department to preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage fish and wildlife and to provide fishing and hunting opportunities. Department activities also are subject to provisions of Title 220 of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC).