Changing trust fund allocations reflects times

A number of state officials, including Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh, have ideas for changing the way the state spends money from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

We think it’s time these ideas got a closer look.

State reps. John Kivela, D-Marquette, and Andrea LaFontaine, R-Columbus Township, will host a town hall discussion on natural resource issues in Marquette Wednesday. The event, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the commission chambers of city hall, will focus largely on the future of the fund.

Preliminary conversations have looked at whether to maintain the original intent of the trust fund. In 1984, Michigan residents voted to amend the Constitution and create the fund. The amendment sends payments from oil, gas, and mineral leases into the fund, with proceeds used to acquire and develop public recreation lands.

There has been recent discussion about whether the current formula for dividing money between acquisition versus maintenance and development projects is appropriate. Currently, 75 percent of the funds are directed to land purchases. The state may well benefit from changing that ratio.

The trust fund holds about $560 million. Investment profit from the funds – targeted at about 5.5 percent – are spent. Only about 2.5 percent is spent on buying land and building projects. That’s between $15 million and $20 million each year.

Creagh and Snyder have argued that more requests for development than acquisition are being made, so more money should flow to projects.We agree.

Over the life of the trust fund, Marquette County has had 49 land purchases and projects funded, totaling more than $11.5 million. Projects include the Beaver Grove recreation area, Perkins Park in Big Bay, Teal Lake access improvements and upgrades at the Lower Harbor Marina.

Earlier this year, some lawmakers suggested using some of the money for emergency dredging projects. That’s not an idea we’d support.

We think the trust fund should be preserved for its intended uses – purchasing and developing land for residents to enjoy. There’s no reason to keep the state locked into the current formula. We think a switch allowing more projects and fewer acquisitions would be good policy.

In the end, that decision will be up to the state’s voters. We urge them to learn more about the issue – Wednesday’s discussion should be a good start.