Changes would ensure accountability and oversight to trust fund process

LANSING— Sen. Darwin Booher recently introduced legislation to bring more accountability and oversight to the state’s Natural Resources Trust Fund (NRTF) project recommendation and approval process. “The Natural Resources Trust Fund improves our quality of life by using constitutionally restricted dollars to help support local development projects that enhance our outdoor recreational opportunities,” said Booher, R-Evart. “I am supportive of these local projects, but I am also greatly concerned about a lack of transparency in the current process that creates an unaccountable pool of dollars for ‘ecoregion’ land purchases. “My legislation will ensure proper legislative oversight of state funds by banning the use of vague ecoregions and require the trust fund board to identify and score each individual project and then submit that full, detailed list for legislative approval.” Senate Bill 1238 would require the NRTF board to review and score parcels individually and add to its annual report the status of each project, including information on when the project was started, its current status and a timeline for completion. “This year, the state requested $4.4 million for ‘ecoregions’ without specifically identifying what land would be purchased and for what cost,” Booher said. “This was in addition to a total of $7 million from 2008 to 2011 that is sitting – unspent – in an ecoregions fund. I strongly oppose the ecoregions process because I believe that giving the state a blank check to buy more land however it sees fit is a failure of our role as lawmakers to oversee state spending.” Booher’s bill would also require an annual report to the standing committees on unspent funds and direct the NRFT board to give greater consideration to land acquisitions that would allow for increased recreational use of public lands. “Importantly, my reform would not affect local purchases and development projects,” Booher said. “It is about applying the detailed, transparent process for those local projects to the state’s trust fund system. These changes are especially important in Northern Michigan, where I continually hear from residents about access issues on public lands and that the state is not meeting its current payments in lieu of taxes obligations to locals for the land it already owns.”