John Arway is leaving his post as executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, so the Legislature is ready to move forward on a bill to increase the agency’s funding.
If it sounds odd that the two events are linked, that’s because it is. There shouldn’t be a connection. In a grave disservice to Pennsylvanians, however, lawmakers have been holding up a funding bill to try to force Arway out of the job he’s had for eight years.
The tiff shows what really matters in Harrisburg. Doing your job — in Arway’s case, acting as a zealous advocate for outdoor enthusiasts — means nothing if you don’t kowtow to the powers that be in the process. For lawmakers, funding an important agency like the Fish and Boat Commission is less important than showing a career public servant who’s boss.
The commission’s budget is funded largely with revenue from the sale of fees and permits. The cost of a general fishing license hasn’t increased in 13 years, and only the Legislature can authorize a hike.
Arway, whose employment at the commission stretches back nearly four decades, long has advocated for more money. Two years ago, he made the rounds of the state supporting a sensible plan that would allow the Fish and Boat Commission and its sister agency, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, to set their own rates for three years with legislative oversight.
Legislation to that effect had been introduced, but when it failed to move forward, Arway last year was told to cut his budget by $2 million. When he tried to rally outdoor enthusiasts to put pressure on the Legislature — he made a point of saying which waterways in which legislative districts could be affected — lawmakers retaliated.
They toyed with legislation that would limit Arway’s tenure to eight years but never passed it. They also shot down a license fee increase, even though more money was in the best interest of the Pennsylvanians whom lawmakers ostensibly are elected to represent. As the Post-Gazette’s John Hayes reported in March, the word out of Harrisburg was that there would be no license hike while Arway remained on the job.
Last week, Arway announced he’ll retire Nov. 2, and legislators said they’re prepared to move forward with a license fee increase. Incredibly, Sen. Patrick Stefano, R-Fayette, chairman of the Game and Fisheries Committee, made this statement:
“The Legislature doesn’t want fisheries resources used as a bargaining chip. Anglers can know that Fish and Boat will be put back on course, and we’re taking the politics out of wildlife conservation.”
What hubris. Stefano and his colleagues made fisheries resources a bargaining chip in their power struggle with Arway. They were happy to treat anglers and boaters as pawns and the commission’s struggles as collateral damage.
Arway is a hard-hitting, straight-talking professional who stood up for his agency and Pennsylvanians who depend on it. State government needs more public servants like him and fewer legislators who put their egos before their constituents.
— The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette