Republican legislators have their eyes on the Natural Resources Trust Fund.
The House Republican Action Plan announced the caucus’ intention to explore a constitutional amendment that would make the Natural Resources Trust Fund available for operation and maintenance of state parks.
The Detroit Free Press reported that the legislators are discussing using funds for renovating state parks, repairing highways and dredging Great Lakes harbors. However, the purpose of the trust fund is to provide funds to purchase land for recreation and preservation of natural resources, and for development of recreational facilities.
The funds may also be used to acquire land for other governmental units. Several years ago the NRTF contributed more than one-half of the funds necessary to purchase a portion of the Denison property in Saugatuck for parkland. Now this year, Representative Bob Genetski (R, Saugatuck) has proposed in HB4106 to allow use of the trust fund for dredging harbors for use by recreational watercraft. This will not be allowed without a constitutional amendment.
Diverting funds of the trust for day to day expenses means that funds will not be available for new land and facilities. Raiding the fund for other uses is short-sighted. It also signals again the legislature’s devaluation of the environment and recreation.
How the Fund Works.
The trust was initially funded by fees paid to the state for extraction of non-renewable resources from state lands. The trust was limited to $500 million, except for interest and income. Since reaching the limit no state funds can be added to the trust.
Only earnings from the principle can be spent, currently between $25 – $35 million each year. The constitution requires at least 25% of the available funds must be spent on land acquisition, but no more than 25% can be spent for capital improvements.
The governor appoints a board for the trust fund. Each year the board recommends to the governor the projects to be funded and the governor submits an appropriation bill to the legislature for the projects.
Too Much Land?
Northern communities have long opposed the state’s purchase of additional land because it reduces the taxable land, and therefore, reduces real estate taxes. In Saugatuck, it was the local community that wanted the land, and they were more than willing to give up the property taxes in order to acquire 171 of parkland on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Last year the legislature limited the area of land that the state may own to 4.6 million acres. Currently the state owns about 4.5 million acres. However, there is still a need for land for and development of local parks. The Natural Resources Trust Fund should continueto function as originally authorized in the constitution.