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Editorial: Vote 'no' on Prop 1 to free future resources

The Detroit News Editorial Board

For a guide to The Detroit News endorsements in all races so far, click here.

Proposal 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot statewide would change the way Michigan uses and controls two funds: the Natural Resources Trust Fund and the State Parks Endowment Fund.

Both funds are built on royalties from the state’s sale of oil and gas resources off of publicly-owned land.

Proposal 1 would make several alterations to these funds. Voters should vote “no” to reject the proposal. That would allow the state more flexibility in spending money down the on other priorities when the funds have been fully stocked. 

By law, the state was required to put the royalties into the Natural Resources Trust Fund until it hit the fund cap of $500 million. The NRTF provides grants to local governments, which allows them to acquire land for public use. 

We think Michigan residents should vote "no" on Proposal 1, which would bind future gas and oil royalties to public lands.

Since the cap was hit in 2011, the state has been growing the State Parks Endowment Fund, which gives money to buy and develop state parks. The SPEF is currently limited to $800 million, an amount it’s not expected to reach for decades.

Proposal 1 would essentially remove the $500 million cap on the NRTF, which would allow it to take the money after the state park fund reaches its limit. 

It would also change the spending rules that govern the two funds. The proposal would require that at least 20% of the state parks fund go toward improvements. It would also require at least 25% of the natural resources fund go toward land conservation and at least 25% go toward parks and public recreation areas.

Proponents of Proposal 1 argue that because these are royalties from non-renewable sources like oil and gas, Michigan should put all that money away for new public land and park maintenance. 

But voters should  ask themselves if the state needs more than the already allocated maximum of $1.3 billion dollars for land and park maintenance when that money could be spent on other pressing needs such as education reform and infrastructure. 

As it stands now, local and state park acquisition and maintenance will continue to be funded after the caps are hit, but further royalties will go into the General Fund. 

Michigan voters have an opportunity to think about how they want to spend the state's resources down the road and whether they want to lock it into these specific purposes.

The funds would continue to be replenished by royalties before any money is made available to the general fund. The $1.3 billion is sufficient for public land acquisition and to keep parks well maintained. 

Voters should say no to Proposal 1.

Endorsements are determined independently by The Detroit News Editorial Board and have no influence on news coverage.