Should Michigan's NRTF funds be allocated differently?

Tom PinkMy interest has been piqued by recent meetings to discuss whether the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund should be allocated differently. The fund comes from royalties from oil, gas and mineral leases and is used mostly for acquiring public lands for recreation.

Currently, the fund, which has had its $500 million cap lifted twice, must use 75 percent of its disbursements for land acquisition and 25 percent for development projects. Some people, including the person who manages the fund for the DNR, are advocating to change the percentages, allowing more flexibility with the disbursements.

With the current mood in the state legislature being cool on more state land acquisition, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to put more money into development of current state properties. The key would be making sure that the development wouldn’t detract from the land itself and would allow it to be better used by the state’s residents. For example, acquiring access to a navigable stream is one thing – putting in a small parking lot and an easy place for paddlers to launch canoes and kayaks may be even better.

The fund’s manager says that in 2011 and 2012, the fund has had more acquisition money available than requests for it, and about four times more development requests than funding available. It seems reasonable to change the allocation split to help with those projects.

Not everyone is in favor of changing the allocation percentages. During meetings in the Upper Peninsula to discuss the possibility, the Marquette Township Planning Commission and others expressed their interest in leaving the current funding split alone. Others advocate increasing the fund’s cap.

To change how the funds are allocated or to increase the cap would require a change to the state constitution, so it’s likely nothing is going to be done very soon, but it will be interesting to hear more input from the public about the possibilities. No one wants to see the fund robbed for uses that are inappropriate to its purpose, but if the fund’s managers are interested in seeing some changes, we should at least take a look at what might be done to use the fund to its best potential.

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