Proposed laws originate along a spectrum of motivations. At one end, the incentive is good government; at the opposite pole is spite.
What has motivated the state lawmakers who are proposing radical changes in the constitutional makeup and funding of the Missouri Conservation Commission and the agency it oversees, the state Department of Conservation?
Among the measures:
• A proposed constitutional amendment would change the makeup of the Conservation Commission from four at-large members to eight regional representatives.
• A second proposed amendment would eliminate the one-eighth cent sales tax approved by voters in 1976. The dedicated revenue stream - which generates about $110 million annually - contains no sunset provision.
• A law proposed by Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, would prohibit the department from charging fees for hunting, fishing and trapping licenses.
Munzlinger characterizes the license fees as "double taxation," a cost added to the sales tax Missourians pay.
We don't share the senator's objection.
Conservation operates much like Jefferson City's Parks and Recreation Commission, which oversees the municipal agency. Both benefit from a dedicated sales tax, but both assess user fees for specific activities. We believe buying a fishing license to support state fisheries management is no different, or more burdensome, than paying a greens fee to help maintain the municipal golf course.
The proposed constitutional amendments may not be onerous - voters could restore the sales tax - but they don't seem necessary. The bipartisan, statewide membership of the commission, and its voter-approved sales tax, are designed to distance the agency from political influence and territorial bias.
Some lawmakers, however, appear to resent that Conservation largely is insulated from legislative tampering. Cynics suggest these proposals are attempts to punish or control the agency. They fear the motivation for these initiatives is spite.
Changes to Missouri's Conservation program suffer from questionable motives and are constitutionally meddlesome and unnecessary. They deserve to be rejected or, better yet, ignored.