Michigan voters in 1984 approved amending the state Constitution requiring that oil, gas and mineral lease and royalty payments be placed into a trust fund creating the Natural Resource Trust Fund. The legislature then passed Public Act 101 of 1985 to implement the new amendment.
P.A. 101 stipulated that in one fiscal year, up to one-third of all mineral lease revenues plus the interest and earnings of the trust fund could be used to purchase and develop land for resource protection and public outdoor recreation and to develop outdoor recreation facilities. The act also required that not less than 25 percent of the total expenditures from the Trust Fund in any fiscal year be spent to purchase land or land rights and also stipulated that no more than 25 percent of the Trust Fund expenditures in a year could be spent to develop recreational facilities.
It is time for state lawmakers to amend P.A. 101. The requirement that at least 25 percent of Trust Fund monies be spent to purchase land should be dropped. It is not fiscally responsible to continue to mandate additional government land purchases when cash strapped state and local government are having a difficult time managing the property they currently own. In addition when government purchases land it is often taken off property tax roles. The requirement that no more than 25 percent of Trust Fund dollars can be spent on recreational development should also be eliminated. There are more acres in public ownership in Michigan than any state east of the Mississippi River. Rather than buying more land, it only makes sense that we develop and maintain the land that is already in public ownership.
Few would argue that Michigan has not benefited from the Natural Resource Trust Fund. Michigan in 2011, however, is not the same state as it was in 1985. Our once rich state has become a poor state. As of the end of fiscal year 2009 (the most recent annual Trust Fund report published by DNR) the fund had a balance of $24,715,655. The Natural Resource Trust should not be diverted to make up for budget shortfalls, but it is time to take as serious look at how Trust Fund monies are being spent to ensure that expenditures reduce, rather than increase, future taxpayer expenditures.