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Opinion | A tax cut for Michigan outdoors is something we all should agree on

During the last two years, Michigan’s parks and outdoor spaces have provided solace from the COVID-19 pandemic and helped Michiganders reconnect with nature. As legislative leaders and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hash out the budget for the next fiscal year, they have an opportunity to make a one-time deposit to the Michigan State Park Endowment Fund (SPEF) that will cover the operations of our state parks forever.

Helen Taylor, Conan Smith
Helen Taylor is state director of The Nature Conservancy in Michigan. Conan Smith is president and CEO of the Michigan Environmental Council. (Courtesy photos)

The state has an estimated $6 billion budget surplus, and this $500 million – one-time deposit – is equivalent to a $50 million to $80 million tax cut forever because taxes won’t be needed to fund the operations of our state parks.  Even now, when inflation is high and Michigan families are struggling to make ends meet, the SPEF ensures our parks are taken care of and available for all residents, because the Michigan Constitution automatically adjusts its balance ever year based on the rate of inflation.

Allocating $500 million to the SPEF would have a cascading effect on our state parks, our state’s public lands and outdoor recreation that would be felt for generations. This one-time allocation would fully fund the SPEF and trigger the allocation of revenues from the royalties on oil, gas, and mining operations of state-owned minerals to the Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF).

The MNRTF supports the development and improvement of public outdoor recreation opportunities across the state. To date, more than $1 billion has been awarded to communities throughout Michigan. Some of our most treasured outdoor spaces wouldn’t exist today without support from the MNRTF.

By including this funding in the budget, the Michigan Legislature and governor will make an unprecedented investment in our outdoor spaces and fulfill the goal of Proposal 1, which removed the funding cap on the MNRTF, ensuring existing royalties paid by oil and gas industries are reinvested back into our natural resources and outdoor spaces. 

Proposal 1 was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2020 because they saw the benefit of supporting the places that make Michigan so special – from our Great Lakes beaches and public lands to our trails, paths, parks, and playgrounds. 

In March, the Legislature passed a supplemental spending plan that included $450 million in critical funding for state and local parks to help with trail and facility expansion, repairs, and improvements.

This was a good first step to improve the infrastructure at parks across the state, but now the state must look down the road at how to maintain those new facilities that will be built — and making this one-time allocation assures that will happen.

After all, studies have shown spending time outdoors helps reduce stress and anxiety, and in the early months of the pandemic, Michiganders took to local and state parks in droves to reconnect with nature and rediscover the beauty Michigan’s outdoors have to offer.

Even as lives returned to normal, the quest to explore the great outdoors didn’t wane as parks throughout the state experienced record attendance and a surge of visitors.

Whether it was a trail down the road or a trek to the U.P., Michiganders connected with nature in ways they hadn’t before, finding comfort in the songbird’s first notes, a postcard sunset and our flora in full bloom.

Michigan’s parks and natural areas are part of the fabric of our state, and we should take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to assure the ability to care for them forever.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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