Lawmakers ask voters to free up DNR trust fund money for park development

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
A stroller walks a pair of dogs through Danford Island Parkin Dimondale, MI.  A nearly $170,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund helped to restore the contaminated, abandoned park.

Lansing — A resolution that would ask voters to consider a constitutional amendment to free up state natural resource grants for park developments was passed early Friday by the Legislature in unanimous votes.

The resolution required support from two-thirds of lawmakers, a super majority, because it is an attempt to amend the state constitution, which dictates how the state distributes money from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The proposal will be put before voters in the next general election.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, introduced the resolution to change the more than 40-year-old formula that dictates at least 25 percent of any funding go toward park land and acquisition and less than 25 percent for development.

Funded by oil and gas royalties, the trust fund has paid for more than $1.1 billion in public land purchases and land development from 1976 to 2016. About 80 percent or $871 million went to land acquisition and 20 percent or $246 million went to development.

Trust Fund Board member Bill Rustem told The Detroit News in June that attractive acquisition opportunities are becoming more rare and the greater need is to develop and maintain the properties, an option prohibited by current law. Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Snyder said he supports the change. 

Casperson wants to change the funding formula to allow for at least 25 percent acquisition and at least 25 percent development.

His proposal also would allow trust fund grants for the replacement of old facilities; lift a 2011 natural resource trust fund cap so it could capture royalties again; and change the endowment fund’s spending formula.

The changes would not affect revenue for the trust fund, according to a House Fiscal Agency report, but could have differing impacts on units of government at the state and local levels.

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