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President's Column: Show me your budget, I’ll tell you your values

Proposed state budget shows promise for natural resource protection
“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value,” Vice President Joe Biden is credited with saying. As a former State House Appropriations Committee member, my colleagues and I used to say “policy schmolicy.” All the policy in the world doesn’t matter unless you fund it! 

That’s why we’re cautiously optimistic about the priorities in Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, with new and increased funding for many programs to protect and enhance our natural resources and environment. The legislature is currently working to produce its own budgets by early summer. We must be vigilant throughout this process because, as former State Senator Harry Gast observed, “the governor proposes and the legislature deposes.” That appears true this year. 

Long knives 
No sooner was the budget to the legislature than the long knives came out, particularly in the State House as the Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources voted to cut $11 million in General Fund dollars from the DNR budget. That included cuts to invasive species protection, trails, forests and state parks among others. 

But the governor’s proposal is still the starting point for debate, so let’s see what’s worth fighting for! 

Snyder’s budget for FY 2015 is a $52 billion spending plan, which is about a 2 percent increase over the current budget. A 7.1 percent increase in General Fund dollars—to $9.8 billion—allows the governor to fund many of his budget priorities. Both the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would see healthy increases in General Fund revenue—40 percent and 85 percent, respectively. 

Department of Environmental Quality 
The governor’s proposed Department of Environmental Quality budget comes in at just over $504 million, of which $40.8 million is from General Fund revenue—a 40.4% increase. The total budget is actually 2.5 percent less than the current year spending primarily because of a slowdown in allocations from a long-term bond for stormwater protection. Excluding that, there is almost $16 million in new funding to protect the environment. 

The budget’s strategic investments are supported in the DEQ budget through the following priorities: 

Recycling: $1 million to increase residential recycling throughout Michigan. Initial efforts will focus on measurement and metric development, education and outreach, marketing, and market development for recycled goods. 

Water quality and use: $3.97 million to support the development of a statewide water strategy, beach monitoring, wetlands program, water use conflict resolution and permitting activities. 

Hazardous waste: $1.9 million to maintain the program that manages the 6,500 hazardous waste generators in Michigan. 

Compliance assistance: $1 million to increase compliance assistance activities. Drinking water: $2.5 million to be used as a federal match, allowing the department to leverage an additional $12.5 million in federal funding. Refined petroleum cleanup: $3 million to increase support for underground storage tank cleanups. This money had previously been used for state debt service instead of the intended use for pollution cleanup. 

Electronic documents: $2.5 million (one time only spending) to convert old paper files into an electronic format and to provide online access to commonly requested files. 

Invasive species: $6 million to be split between the DNR, DEQ, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. This new initiative is meant to target the growing threat of aquatic and terrestrial invasive species. 

Stormwater: $97 million to fund grants for stormwater and wastewater asset management plan development, stormwater management plan development, sewage collection and treatment plan development, and state-funded loans for water quality work. 

Department of Natural Resources 
The governor’s proposed $383 million DNR budget includes $47 million in General Fund revenue, an 85 percent increase. It includes more than $25 million in new funding to protect our natural resources. Strategic investments include: 

Invasive species: $6 million to implement a comprehensive, coordinated regional response to prevent, detect, eradicate, and control invasive species. 

Non-motorized trails: $2.5 million to increase non-motorized trail development to make Michigan the “Trail State,” including the Border-to-Border trail connecting Belle Isle through the Upper Peninsula to Wisconsin. The initiative would also focus on connecting trails to communities to help with rural economic development. 

Forest management: $4 million to enhance wildfire protection and to hire 10 new foresters. 

Great Lakes research: $2 million to replace the department’s 67-year-old Chinook research vessel for Great Lakes management and scientific research. 

Conservation officers: $3.5 million to hire 25 additional DNR conservation officers to enforce laws to protect our natural resources, recreational safety and environmental protection. 

Civilian Conservation Corps: $1 million to provide Michigan youth and returning veterans with an employment experience for potential careers in natural resources. 

State parks: $3 million increase for a total of $6.5 million, to repair and maintain our state parks. These additional funds will help to address the backlog of infrastructure needs. 

Wetlands: $3 million to protect critical wetlands and habitat through wetland restoration and acquisition. 

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development 
The governor’s proposed budget comes in at $82.5 million. That is a 2.9 percent increase, of which $44.8 million is from the General Fund—a 10.6 percent hike. Department budget highlights include: 
  • $1.8 million increase for 12 new food and dairy inspectors. 
  • $1.05 million in continuing funding for grants that support the distribution of Michigan-grown agricultural products through the development and growth of “food hubs.” 
  • $2 million increase for the Qualified Forestry Program for the “private forest development program” that works with landowners, local governments, and conservation districts to monitor forestry management plans. 
Lead poisoning prevention 
It is good to see that the governor’s proposed budget includes $1.25 million for lead poisoning prevention programs through the Department of Community Health. MEC was critical in getting the legislature to recognize the need and appropriate the necessary funds last year to address this environmental health issue. 

The governor has put a lot in his budget for environmental and conservation advocates to fight for, and we should be glad that these initiatives have been included. It is much easier to fight to keep something in the budget than it is to try to put something new into the budget. 

Let’s get to work!
-Chris Kolb
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