‘I Will Take Every Dime’: Nebraska Legislature Considers Raiding Game Fund

by Braxton Taylor

Nebraska politicians are considering a bill that would give the state legislature the power to raid the State Game Fund and transfer $7 million into the General Fund this year alone. The bill has received significant pushback from hunters and anglers in Nebraska, but at least one state senator has refused to budge.

“I will take every dime I can from Game and Parks because it is the poorest managed agency of our state,” said State Senator Steve Erdman in an email reviewed by MeatEater.

The bill, LB 1413, was introduced in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature at the behest of Governor Jim Pillen. It spells out a variety of monetary transfers to and from different government agencies, but it also includes a provision that grants the legislature the power to transfer money from the State Game Fund to the General Fund.

“Transfers may be made from the fund to the General Fund at the direction of the Legislature,” the bill reads on page 11. Acting on this newfound power, the bill directs the treasurer to transfer $7 million from the Game Fund to the General Fund on or before June 30, 2024.

The State Game Fund is funded by hunting and trapping license fees and related dollars. The $7 million transfer is a small portion of the Game and Parks Department’s $113 million budget, but the transfers don’t stop there.

The bill also takes $2.5 million from the Nebraska Habitat Fund, another $2.5 million from the State Park Cash Revolving Fund, and $6.5 million from the Water Recreation Enhancement Fund.

The money taken from the State Game Fund could have even larger implications. As the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation pointed out in a letter opposing LB 1413, using sportsmen-generated funding for anything other than the administration of a fish and wildlife agency could make the state ineligible for other federal dollars. In 2023, those federal funds totaled $27.4 million, which would strip the Nebraska Game and Parks Department of nearly $35 million next year.

“I Will Take Every Dime”

But that may be exactly what some legislators would like to see. Nebraska Sen. Steve Erdman has previously voiced frustration with the fishing opportunities in his area, and he said at a committee meeting that he would like to take “whatever money we can possibly take” from the Game and Parks Department.

“The fishing locations I go to, I call them the Dead Sea. And that’s the way it’s been the last couple years,” he said to a Game and Parks official. “Your management of wildlife, especially mountain lions and elk is sub-par. So, whatever money we can possibly take from you, I’m in favor of that until you guys start managing what you should be managing.”

Erdman doubled down on these comments in an email to a hunter named Kevin Martin. Martin does not live in Nebraska, but he told MeatEater that he frequently hunts in the state and so believed it was appropriate to voice his concerns. Erdman did not agree.

“Kevin, I received fifty or more of these emails. Each one is exactly the same and it is very poorly written. Look at the first line: ‘As a concerned sportsman and constituent…’ Are you confused about where you live? How can you be a constituent of Nebraska if you live out-of-state? Nice try,” Erdman said.

“I will take every dime I can from Game and Parks because it is the poorest managed agency of our state,” he continued. “These emails mean absolutely nothing to a State Senator when they are copied and pasted. That must have taken a lot of creativity on your part.”

Martin told MeatEater that he used an auto-email generator from the group Sportsmen’s Alliance. But he still didn’t appreciate Erdman’s comments in his email or what he said on the phone when Martin called him later.

“His comment was condescending, and I would say honestly, very narcissistic,” Martin said. “When he spoke to me today, he straight up said for anyone that sends these letters in, ‘I’m not gonna pay a damn bit of attention to them because you guys are not my constituents.’”

Erdman had not responded to a MeatEater request for comment by the time of publication.

Todd Adkins, vice president of government affairs for the Sportsmen’s Alliance, said that Erdman should educate himself on the economic impact of both resident and non-resident hunters and anglers.

“Senator Erdman might do well to understand just how many hundreds of millions of dollars hunters and anglers contribute to Nebraska’s economy, and that non-residents are a huge source of that economic impact,” Adkins said. “This level of contempt for constituents and citizens, regardless of where they live, by a sitting senator is mindboggling.”

It isn’t uncommon for state legislatures to attempt to use money from license sales for other purposes. Just last year, federal auditors accused the Maine state government of improperly diverting funds from hunting, fishing, and wildlife protection programs to the state pension fund. Pennsylvania also recently attempted to pass a bill that would have transferred money from the state Game Fund to agricultural initiatives.

LB 1413 has been referred to the Appropriations Committee, but no action has been taken. Nebraska residents who would like to reach out to their state senator can find their contact information here. Non-resident hunters and anglers can reach out to LB 1413’s sponsor, Nebraska Speaker of the Legislature John Arch, here.

Feature image via Nebraska Legislature.

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