If you don’t have a dog, you probably don’t care how much a license costs. Here’s why you should.
Dog license fees are used to enforce the state’s dog laws. That includes investigating dangerous dogs, handling strays and regulating kennels.
The fees are supposed to cover most of the cost. But they don’t come close anymore.
So tax dollars are being used for those expenses now.
Money that could be spent on education, school security, emergency services, road and bridge construction, nursing homes and countless other needs has been shifted to pay for dog wardens and kennel inspectors.
This year, the cost to taxpayers was $1.3 million. Next year, that could be $3 million.
That’s how much the state Department of Agriculture, which includes the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, has requested from state lawmakers in the 2022-23 fiscal year budget that will be negotiated later this month.
There’s an easy alternative to spending tax dollars on dog law enforcement — raise dog license fees.
They haven’t been increased since 1996. That’s why the revenue they generate no longer covers the expenses.
Only the Legislature can raise the fees. Legislation was introduced last year to do that, but it went nowhere. So tax dollars needlessly were spent instead.
That’s poor fiscal management. A million bucks doesn’t seem like much in a nearly $40 billion state budget. But a lot of other things could have been done with that money.
I’ll repeat what I wrote last year when I barked about this:
“Increasing the dog license fee should be one of the easiest decisions for lawmakers this year.
Dog people won’t mind the increase. We know that a license protects our dogs by identifying them, and us, in case they get lost.
Those who don’t own dogs won’t be affected by the increase, and they will be better protected from stray and dangerous dogs. If an unlicensed dog bites you, it can be harder to hold the owner accountable.”
Lawmakers have another opportunity to fix this problem. New legislation was introduced Thursday by Sen. Elder Vogel, a Republican from Beaver County.
That’s interesting because he has been one of the roadblocks to getting fees increased in the past.
He is chairman of the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, where one of the previous bills that was ignored last year, Senate Bill 232, still languishes.
Vogel’s legislation, Senate Bill 1289, is broader. In addition to raising most licensing fees, it would also significantly increase revenue from kennels and fines.
I wonder if that will make it more difficult to pass the bill, with opposition likely to be raised by the kennel community.
Under Vogel’s bill, the cost of an annual license for a dog would be $8, regardless of whether the dog is spayed or neutered. Currently, the cost is $6.50 for spayed and neutered dogs and $8.50 for others.
Senior citizens and people with disabilities would get a discounted rate, $6.
Vogel’s proposal would increase the cost of a lifetime license to $80, up from the current $31.50 for spayed and neutered dogs and $51.50 for others. The cost would be $50 for seniors and people with disabilities.
His bill would raise kennel fees, which have been the same for nearly 60 years, by 25%. Those costs vary by the type of kennel.
Fines for having an unlicensed dog would range from $100 to $500, up from $50 to $300. The fine for operating an unlicensed kennel would be $1,000 to $5,000 per day, up from $500 to $1,000.
A key part of the legislation is that it would not require approval for future increases. Starting in five years, the state agriculture secretary would have authority to raise fees in line with the Consumer Price Index.
Another key point is that it would allow all dog owners to buy a license online. That’s a big problem with the current system, and I believe it’s one of the reasons that as many as half the dogs in Pennsylvania are unlicensed.
Licenses are sold by counties and not all of them offer online ordering. People expect to be able to get services online. When they can’t, they give up.
Vogel’s bill would create a website for sales in counties that don’t provide that service.
As I wrote last year, dog lovers should not mind paying a few more bucks a year. The fees go toward making sure dogs are well cared for in kennels, and keeping the community safe from dangerous dogs.
Kennels haven’t had an increase in my lifetime and it’s time for them to pay more, too. Of course, that cost will be passed to customers.
The failure of licensing fees to keep pace with the cost of enforcing dog laws is not just a financial problem.
With the current funding shortage, the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is understaffed and unable to fully enforce laws.
There are 14 vacant positions in the bureau. Kennels aren’t getting inspected as frequently, illegal kennels may be going undiscovered and it’s taking longer to respond to complaints about dog attacks, Vogel said.
Raising more money through fees on the dog community — which I’m proud to be a part of — would keep state residents safer and ensure their tax dollars are well-spent.
Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or firstname.lastname@example.org