Upgrade needed on dog fees

By now, even the Pennsylvania residents who tend to tune out happenings in the state Legislature might have heard about the proposal in Harrisburg to increase dog license fees — which haven’t been increased in 21 years.

Along with that, those same residents might have heard that the Legislature is being asked to give the state Department of Agriculture authority to render decisions on future license fee hikes rather than keeping that power in the General Assembly.

There are good arguments on both sides of that question. What’s puzzling, though, amid this state’s gamut of laws, rules and regulations affecting dogs is why the Keystone State remains such a dinosaur regarding dog license sales.

Pennsylvania has online resources for so many state government services, but for dog licenses the license-sales process remains virtually identical to what many current dog owners’ parents, grandparents and great-grandparents navigated decades ago.

Not that that system has posed any great hardships: People either mail in their dog license application or visit their county’s courthouse or other designated location or agent to make the purchase.

However, it’s hard to fathom why the issue of modernizing dog license sales has for so many years eluded the attention of state government.

One possible answer is state politicians’ reluctance to anger the state’s counties, which currently get to keep $1 from every license that they sell.

While not a windfall for any of the state’s 67 counties, the money that they are allowed to keep, based on their license sales, is not revenue they greet with a lackadaisical attitude.

Every dollar is important to county governments, even if it’s only $1 per transaction. Because there are more than 966,000 dogs licensed in Pennsylvania, the counties currently share more than $966,000.

Perhaps, if the state Legislature chooses now to approve a proposal on the table for a license-fee increase and opts to give the Agriculture Department authority over future fee increases, it also will give a long-overdue go-ahead to establishing a system of online license sales.

Then county treasurer offices and sales agents wouldn’t be financial losers. Current sellers would continue to be credited regarding sales from their counties, even if they weren’t involved directly in those transactions.

Meanwhile, there’s the possibility that counties and agents would fare better from license sales under the proposed updated, revamped setup; the proposal stipulates that they be allowed to keep $2 from each license sale, rather than $1.

The Agriculture Department has expressed fears that the state’s Dog Law Restricted Fund soon will run out of money. Lawmakers apparently haven’t been losing sleep over the fund’s cash problems, but the dog license sales system needs to be brought up to date, no matter how the other issues shake out.

None of the issues are too complex for resolution in a reasonable amount of time.