Law hinders Mich. raid on DNR funds
Written by Detroit News   
Tuesday, 11 January 2005 05:45
LANSING -- Gov. Jennifer Granholm has signed into law a measure that prevents state officials from solving budget problems by raiding Department of Natural Resources accounts intended for uses ranging from new public boat docks to wildlife research. And voters will get to decide in 2006 whether to toughen the new law by making it an amendment to the Michigan Constitution. Turning it into an amendment would make the accounts virtually untouchable, whereas lawmakers could overturn the new law by majority vote.

The law and proposed constitutional amendment, both resulting from action by the legislature last month, come amid growing worries by hunters, fishermen and boaters that revenue from the permits and licenses they buy will be diverted to state budget fixes.

There's already precedent for that: Officials transferred $7.8 million from the state waterways fund to the general fund, the main state fund controlled by lawmakers, in the 2002-2003 budget year.

The chief sponsor of the proposals was ex-state Rep. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, who said conservation-related revenues shouldn't be used for other purposes.

The proposed constitutional amendment is backed by key groups that can be expected to campaign for its passage, including Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Michigan Boating Industries Association and Michigan Snowmobile Association. It will be placed on the November 2006 general election ballot.

There's about $130 million in the 13 accounts in question, which now will become part of a new Conservation and Recreation Legacy Fund. Examples:

? Michigan State Waterways Fund, which receives 17.5 percent of the revenue from watercraft registration fees. It is intended to pay for public marinas, harbors of refuge, boat launches and public access sites on lakes and rivers.

? Game and Fish Protection Fund, whose money comes mostly from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. It's earmarked for hunting and fishing programs, including research, enforcement of game laws and acquisition of state land.

? Nongame Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund, put together mostly from state income tax checkoffs. It is designated for the improvement of wildlife habitat.

? Forest Recreation Fund, whose revenues come from fees such as the $10-a-day charge at state forest campgrounds. It's intended to improve facilities for hiking, snowmobiling, trail riding, camping and the like.

A key argument against protecting these funds with a constitutional amendment is that it would limit the flexibility needed to manipulate state funds during financial crises. Proponents of the amendment argue that using proceeds from camping, fishing and boating fees for other purposes amounts to an extra tax on outdoor enthusiasts.
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