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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Michigan voters approve Proposal 1, changing rules for parks funding

Michigan voters have resoundingly approved a change to the rules on how Michigan spends oil and gas leasing money to fund state recreation lands. 

Proposal 1, a statewide ballot measure to lift a $500 million cap on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and give fund managers more flexibility in spending fund dollars, had received 84.6 percent of 1.86 million votes counted as of Wednesday morning.

The proposal received strong backing from dozens of groups representing conservation, business and tourism, unions and others who said the change would help secure the future of Michigan’s public recreation lands. 

But it drew criticism from a smaller contingent of conservation groups including the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club and the Michigan Democratic Party Environmental Caucus, whose leaders worried the proposal would shift money away from preservation to plug holes in parks budgets.

In a press release, the campaign representing Proposal 1 supporters called the win “history.”

 

“This is a victory for Michiganders in every corner of the state – from the U.P. to Detroit,” said Becca Maher, the campaign’s manager. “With the passage of Proposal 1, voters sent a clear message to Lansing – we must prioritize protecting our natural resources and conserving and creating access to our outdoor spaces, now and for future generations.”

With the win, the Natural Resources Trust Fund board will have more leeway to decide how much of the fund they spend on land acquisition, and how much to spend on so-called “development” projects such as building trails and playgrounds, upgrading restrooms and increasing accessibility for disabled visitors.

State law formerly required the trust fund board to spend at least 25 percent of annual disbursements on land purchases, and no more than 25 percent on development projects. Some argued that stipulation too often forced fund managers to pass up good development projects.

Local parks officials told Bridge Michigan those development projects are increasingly difficult to fund without outside help, in part because state lawmakers have diverted billions of dollars away from local government budgets.

Since its creation in the 1970s, the trust fund has awarded $1.2 billion in grants to projects in all 83 Michigan counties. It has bought state parkland and built rail trails, conserved land along the Detroit River and more. 

But the fund stopped receiving new deposits in 2011, after it reached a $500 million funding cap. Since then, royalties have instead gone into the State Parks Endowment Fund, where they pay for land purchases, capital improvements and other priorities at state parks. Under the new voter-approved changes, revenue will again flow back into the Natural Resources Trust Fund once the parks fund reaches its $800 million cap decades from now. 

Conan Smith, president and CEO of the Michigan Environmental Council, called the proposal’s passage a “decisive message” that voters care about protecting public lands. 

“Michiganders understand the importance of spending time in nature,” Smith said, “and this victory guarantees an increase in opportunities for outdoor recreation across the state, something we should all celebrate.”

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