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Analyzing Gov. Snyder’s budget: Significant general fund cuts to natural resources protections

Significant cuts in general fund revenue to agencies that protect Michigan’s natural resources were outlined by Gov. Rick Snyder in the budget plan he unveiled Feb. 17. The proposal – now being vigorously debated across the state – also seeks fee increases on businesses to fund certain enforcement programs and cuts tax incentives for redevelopment of contaminated lands – commonly referred to as brownfields.

The Michigan Environmental Council will vigorously press the Snyder Administration and the State Legislature to maintain essential programs that protect public health and natural resources, while recognizing that difficult choices must be made with limited state resources.

We have also examined Governor Snyder’s proposed criteria (metrics) for grading the agencies, which were included in the budget message. We will be working to change several that are not related to the agencies’ primary goals of protecting public health and natural resources.

We may suggest, for example, measuring the “number of counties with monitored violations of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards” should be replaced with a measurement of the number of residents living in areas with violations of those standards. Likewise, measuring the percentage of aboveground storage tanks passing inspections seems to us less valuable than monitoring the number of leaking underground storage tanks in Michigan. Currently that number exceeds 7,000.

Below are bullet points summarizing significant proposed changes to the budgets of the departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

Budget Highlights

Department of Environmental Quality
  • Overall 15% reduction in general fund support for the department. That reduces the general fund portion of the budget by about $3.8 million, leaving $21.5 million in general fund support.
  • The budget does not suggest that any program be returned to the federal government to administer.
  • The budget continues to divert a portion of the money collected through a 7/8th of one cent per gallon gas tax for the cleanup of leaking underground storage tanks. Of the $50 million collected about $20 million will go toward tank cleanups, the remaining $30 million will go toward paying other administrative expenses of the department and debt service on environmental bonds.
  • The budget includes proposed fee increases in two areas: Clean Air Act fees for air pollution permits as required by federal law, and a small increase on solid waste disposal fees to pay for current programs within the waste program.
  • The budget plan will reduce the amount of brownfield redevelopment tax credits available by half or more.
Department of Natural Resources
  • Overall 15% reduction in general fund support for the department. That reduces the general fund portion of the budget by about $1.9 million, leaving $13.7 million in general fund support.
  • The department continues to focus on improving parks and park funding. Currently about 21% of Michigan residents are participating in the Recreation Passport program which charges $10 on vehicle registrations for annual state park passes (see related story this issue).
Department of Agriculture
  • Overall 10% reduction in general fund support for the department. That reduces the general fund portion of the budget by about $2.7 million, leaving $27.1 million in general fund support.
  • A number of savings occur by having various industries undertake safety and inspections functions currently performed by the department.
The 156-page budget proposal is available online at the State Budget Office website:
-Hugh McDiarmid, Jr.
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