It’s no secret that over the past two years, more and more people have been getting outdoors to hike one of Michigan’s national, state or local parks, spend a relaxing day at the beach, or enjoy the solace of camping in the backcountry. In fact, our state is a beacon of outdoor adventure not only for Michiganders, but for Midwesterners as well.
And the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have a chance to make sure it stays that way.
When lawmakers return to Lansing in December, they will have a unique opportunity to make a one-time investment in our parks and open spaces through the State Parks Endowment Fund. This will pay dividends in service and maintenance and benefit Michiganders for decades to come.
The state currently has a budget surplus of $6 billion. A one-time deposit of $500 million into the State Parks Endowment Fund would equate to nearly $80 million in tax reductions each year — forever — because taxes would no longer be needed to fund the operations of our state parks. In addition, the Fund is adjusted each year based on increases in the Consumer Price Index, so there is no risk of losing purchasing power during inflation, as is the case today.
Fully funding the State Parks Fund will also allow an important funding stream to return to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund—royalty revenues from the sale and lease of oil, gas and state mineral rights. These additional funds ensure that we can protect public lands and maintain our best-in-class outdoor recreation facilities for decades to come.
Preserving outdoor recreation traditions — and their economic benefits — is top of mind for many states adapting to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the summer, the National Conference of State Legislatures — a bipartisan gathering of state legislators from all 50 states — held a panel discussion on the outdoor recreation industry and highlighted the industry’s 30 percent growth in the past two years. The board also noted the importance of public investment in outdoor recreation.
The Utah Legislature, for example, is considering legislation to divert money from sales taxes to fund park improvements, which is expected to bring in $38 million a year.
Michigan can do even better.
The Legislature took a good first step this spring by investing $250 million in state park infrastructure. Although this money was desperately needed, it would not last forever.
By using money from our current windfall to fully fund the State Parks Fund, Michigan can take the burden of maintaining and improving our parks off the backs of hard-working Michiganders, now and in the future.
This one-time payment would also accomplish the goal of Proposition 1 in 2020 long before many thought possible. Proposition 1, which lifted the funding cap for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, was approved by an overwhelming majority of voters 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.
A one-time allocation to the state parks fund should be a tax break we can all get. This ensures that our children and grandchildren do not have to pay to maintain our open spaces and ensures that future generations can enjoy Michigan’s natural beauty.