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ODFW looks at bottle, income tax to raise money

Agency with cash flow trouble seeks new revenue sources.


OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE - An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist releases a sterile tiger trout into Diamond Lake to prey on invasive fish. A task force has recommended two possible sources of additional funding for the department.SALEM — A task force convened to suggest new sustainable funding sources for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have settled on two recommended options that each take the form of tax surcharges — one on income and one on beverage containers.

The department is operating on a biennium budget of about $370 million. A third of that comes from hunting and fishing licenses, a third from the federal government, and the rest for various state funds.

The agency has faced a growing cash flow problem, according to a 2015 audit by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. The task force identified an additional funding need of $79.9 million per budget biennium, much of which would go to conservation efforts, according to a draft of the task force’s report to the Legislature, released this past week.

Task force chair Mark Labhart will present the surcharge ideas to two committees during the Legislature’s interim session next week.

In a vote at its meeting Friday, the group was split in terms of prioritizing either of the suggested surcharges.

The suggested bottle tax would be 2.02 percent applied to the cost of a drink at wholesale on those containers subject to the state’s bottle bill on Jan. 1.

“This is intended to be applied to the cost of a beverage, rather than as an addition to the beverage container redemption deposit for those containers subject to the bottle Bill,” the draft report states.

It’s estimated that the bottle tax could generate $61.5 million in revenue in 2017-19, as the tax would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2018, and $82 million in 2019-21, according to estimates prepared for the task force.

The other suggestion the task force is making would be a 0.7 percent surcharge on individual tax returns, with an exemption for people who earn less than $20,000 per year.

The task force decided to leave open for discussion how to retain a “base” of Oregonians who pay fees to hunt and fish; suggestions have so far included tax credits or exemptions for people who have hunting or fishing licenses.

The income tax surcharge could generate $60 million in the 2017-19 biennium and $92.9 million in the 2019-21 biennium, according to estimates that were prepared for the task force. Those estimates take into account the possible exemptions for people earning less than $20,000 and people with fish and wildlife licenses.

Jim Martin, a task force member and former ODFW employee, who now directs the Berkeley Conservation Institute at Pure Fishing, said Friday that the taxes would be “politically difficult,” but the task force had to communicate the idea that failing to fix the agency’s “broken” funding model could undermine “Oregon’s livability and future economy.”

In order for either suggestion to take hold, lawmakers would have to pass legislation or refer the matter to voters in the form of a ballot measure.