Trust Fund Projects Hit a Snag
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) appropriations bill, HB 5364 (S-4), passed the Senate unanimously with significant amendments last week. The amended bill (S-4) stripped all funding from the 4 DNR Eco-Region projects in the Upper Peninsula, Northern Lower, and Southeastern and Southwestern areas of Michigan, to the tune of $4.375 million in total. This funding would have been available for state acquisitions of various properties within the given part of the state to improve state ownership by eliminating private in-holdings within boundary areas and expanding public access.
In Southern Michigan, this cuts MNRTF funding for purchasing private in-holdings in certain southern Michigan State Game Areas and Recreation Areas and improving access to river frontage on the Maple and Kalamazoo Rivers. In the U.P. and NLP, this would cut funding for purchases of deer yard complexes and other wildlife habitat, as well as state forest land in-holdings.
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board approved all of these projects and the use of these monies to acquire and develop public recreation land is protected by the Constitution. So why would the Senate choose to zero out certain projects? There was some concern that this money would further fuel concerns from northern Michigan residents about the amount of state ownership in their area; even though people might not realize that purchases made with MNRTF funding must now pay the full amount of payment in lieu of taxes from the Trust Fund. There was also some discussion that the now “extra” money could be used to fund pet projects in certain districts. This sets a very dangerous precedent for legislative circumvention of the Trust Fund grant application and approval process.
Because the bill was amended in the Senate, it needs to go back to the House of Representatives for concurrence. We hope that the Michigan House of Representatives will see fit to restore funding for the projects approved by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board. At the very least, they should fund the priority purchases in the Southeastern and Southwestern regions where public hunting and recreation land is sparse and opportunities can quickly pass by.
Please contact your Michigan Representative to say we want some or all of the MNRTF funding reinstated for the approved Regional acquisitions before they concur with the Senate passed HB 5364. Furthermore, projects not approved by the MNRTF Board should not be inserted, which harms the integrity of the grant application and approval process.