Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Contact: Joel Sheltrown
(LANSING) State Representative Joel Sheltrown (D-West Branch) today introduced legislation to place an issue before voters that would allow a portion of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to be used for wildlife and fisheries habitat improvement and management. The measure would also increase the amount of revenue available annually from the fund.
“Despite the importance hunting and fishing has in Michigan and its impact on the state’s economy, Michigan is near the bottom nationally in support of its conservation programs,” Sheltrown said. “An increase in state general fund revenue is unrealistic given the state’s continued budget deficits. Imposing new fees or increasing existing fees above the rate of inflation to make up shortfalls is counterproductive to the long-term viability of hunting and fishing programs. There has to be a different solution.”
Sheltrown’s solution would create a ballot proposal to dedicate half of Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund annual expenditures for the development and management of habitat for game and sport fisheries including the stocking of game and fish. The remaining half would continue to fund the acquisition of land and development of public recreation facilities. Currently, three-quarters of the fund is used for acquisition purposes and one quarter is used for development.
The ballot proposal drafted by Sheltrown would also increase the amount of money available annually from one third of revenue deposited into the Trust Fund each year to one half of the money deposited. It would continue to allow the full amount of annual interest and other earnings to be spent. Based on 2008 spending, Sheltrown’s ballot proposal would provide $36 million for wildlife and fisheries habitat and management and $18 million each for land acquisition and public recreational facility development. Last year, approximately $12 million was spent for development and $36 million was spent on acquisition of new state lands.
“I understand there may be some concerns about reducing funding for the acquisition of new state land,” Sheltrown explained. “But local governments are complaining already about the DNR’s inability to meet its Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) obligations on the land it already owns. The upside is that this proposal would increase recreational development funding of existing public land by 50% and most importantly would fully fund wildlife and fisheries programs without the need for new fee increases.”
Based on 2008 figures, the Sheltrown proposal would provide wildlife and fisheries habitat funding at an amount equal to 58% of the total budget for the DNR’s Wildlife and Fisheries divisions. This surpasses the amount currently contributed by hunting and fishing license fee revenue and is seventeen times the amount currently contributed to those two divisions through the state’s general fund.
“The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund has been a triumph of smart government. Since its implementation in 1976, the fund has contributed nearly $700 million in grant funding for land acquisition and recreational development,” Sheltrown said. “As the fund now nears its statutory maturity, the resources are available to expand on its success by guaranteeing a perpetual source of revenue for Michigan hunting and fishing programs long into the future. If this ballot issue is approved by voters in November 2010, it will make Michigan a national leader in conservation programs without the need for new fee increases.”