The heads of Wisconsin state agencies briefed members of the legislature's Joint Commitee on Finance this week, on the specifics of their budgets as contained in Governor Jim Doyle's propsoed two year state spending plan.
Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank, who was the very first agency head to speak on Tuesday, came in for some pointed questioning from lawmakers. State Senator Luther asked Frank about the decision close 25 service centers in communities around the state. "It seems like DNR is now going to be a pretty much faceless organization," said Olson. "Are you at all concerned that there is now going to be this wall between the people of Wisconsin and the DNR?"
Frank responded that the counter service provided at the centers predates the DNR's call center and the Internet – both of which are now heavily used by people seeking answers from the agency. "We believe that people can buy their (hunting & fishing) licenses and get their questions asked using technology and using the private vendor network," Frank said. Doyle's proposed budget calls for closing the service centers for a projected savings of two million dollars. Frank said counter service will remain at the DNR's six regional headquarters.
And, while there's not even an elk hunt yet, the processing fee to apply for an elk permit increases from three to ten dollars in Doyle's budget. "This just looks like complete greed," said Olson, saying it appeared the DNR had decided to "hose it to 'em, and charge 'em ten bucks and . . . for most of 'em, it'll be for nothing." Olson called the fee increase "a money grab," but Frank disagreed. "I don't view it as a money grab, it's a reality that it costs money to run these programs," he said, prompting a question from Olson: "how many tags do you thing you're going to hand out that first year?" Frank responded that the number would be "very small" and, when pressed by Olson, said it's likely that only five elk permts will be issued.
Olson said that, with an estimated 20,000 hunters expected to apply, that's $200,000 generated by the fee. Frank expects the state's first elk hunt will take place within the next two year budget cycle.