Hearing Held on Bill that Impacts Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund

Heart of the Lakes, Michigan land conservancies, Legacy Land ConservancyHeart of the Lakes testified before the Senate Natural Resources Committee this week, opposing SB 206, legislation introduced just last week by Sen. Darwin Booher (R-Evart). The bill would have detrimental impacts on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund , arguably one of Michigan’s great success stories:  one-time revenues from the development of state-owned oil and gas resources to make long-term are invested in state and local natural resource protection, outdoor recreation, trails, and parks that reap environmental, economic and quality of life benefits throughout the state.

As currently written, the wide-ranging bill would override some of the spending and priority policies of the Governor’s appointed Trust Fund Board.  Specifically, Sen. Booher wants the full amount of funding available for recreational development projects to be awarded as grants given the high volume of applications in recent years.  Because the Trust Fund is at its constitutional cap and can spend only interest and earnings, The Trust Fund board currently sets some dollars aside in growth and stabilization funds to prevent erosion of its spending power due to rising PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) costs, inflation and other factors.

Significantly, the bill would also:

  • Prevent the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from seeking any other federal or state funds for land acquisition until they first seek and then are denied an application to the Trust Fund.  In essence, the DNR could not leverage other public funding sources first.   It could also force all state land acquisitions to be pursued solely through the Trust Fund, which compete against local government acquisition applications, putting even greater demands on the popular grant program.
  • Prohibit the DNR from restricting access on any lands it acquires through the Trust Fund; broadly interpreted that could mean all uses on all lands at all times—a recipe for user conflicts, degradation of public lands, and lower quality experiences.
  • Restate the requirement that the Trust Fund pay PILT on all state lands acquired with Trust Fund dollars.
  • Reverse current policy and allow for the repurchase of already publicly held lands, including those purchased with federal Pittman-Robertson dollars, thereby shifting their status to “Trust Fund acquired” lands.  That shift would then prevent the DNR from restricting access to those lands and require the Trust Fund to make PILT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) on those lands—again, overall shrinking the grant capacity of the Trust Fund.
  • Require that 25% of funds available for land acquisition be spent on trails.  While on its face that may align with many state and local trail priorities, a statutory mandate to fund certain types of projects has the untended consequence of potentially elevating poorly conceived projects over those of higher quality.

Meetings with Sen. Booher and conservancies in his district are in the works, Heart of the Lakes and other members will meet with other key Senators to address our concerns.  In addition to Heart of the Lakes, DNR Director Creagh testified against SB 206 at the hearing, as did the Michigan Environmental Council and the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association. The Conservation Fund, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and the Sierra Club also registered their opposition.

Heart of the Lakes Center for Land Conservation Policy advocates for smart public policy to strengthen the impact of Michigan’s land conservancies. To visit their website, please click here.

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