MUCC’s Position on the License Fee Proposal: Is a Fee Increase Necessary?February 28th, 2013
To determine whether the DNR truly requires a funding increase as in the license fee proposal, MUCC relied heavily upon the past two years’ worth of communications and work with the Department on the issue of transparency.
In order for MUCC to take a position on any license fee proposal, we must be able to better understand where our license dollars are spent. But it did not stop there.
Simply knowing that X percent of, say, the Wildlife Division’s budget is spent on “Habitat Work” was not good enough. We wanted to know what that work entailed, what species were impacted and the strategy behind those expenditures–to really see what direction the DNR was heading.
In other words, MUCC wanted to know that the DNR was operating just as any legitimate business does: With a business plan in place and a strategy behind every expenditure.
The Department has been receptive to these requests and has made fairly dramatic strides to put a plan together. It has been said that given a budget of more than $350 million, the DNR is essentially a Fortune 500 company. A company that, until now, has not had a strategic plan. That was simply not acceptable. The Department has agreed to produce such a plan and it is expected to be released in May and outline plans to implement five goals:
1) Protect natural resources and cultural resources
2) Enable sustainable recreational use and enjoyment
3) Enable strong natural resource based economies
4) Improve and build relationships and partnerships
5) Foster effective business practices and good government
The Wildlife Division’s already went through the process to engage stakeholders to create strategic direction for their division, outlined in the GPS (Guiding Principles and Strategies). To keep the public up to date on their progress, they issue the Wildlife Division Annual Report.
This is exactly the type of accountability and transparency MUCC — and its members — have asked for. It’s pretty plain and simple: have a plan, report on the progress, evaluate the results, repeat.
If the license proposal is approved, the DNR would receive an estimated $18 million in additional funding. What, exactly, would those funds be used for?
The DNR has indicated it will do more and better things for wildlife, hunters, and trappers (all according to its plan) with that additional funding. In our final report which will be released on Friday, March 1, we will further break down the specifics of these plans. The fact that the DNR has provided fairly details plans, however, is something MUCC finds not only necessary for support of the license proposal but also an indication that the Department is continuing to work towards more transparency in its spending.
Similarly, the Fisheries Division is working on its own strategic plan on which they recently took public comments, including ours. Though intentionally broad, it describes the direction the division wanted to head and included a forecast of what it would do with additional funding, not just what it would do less of without it.
In comparing the department’s intended outcomes of the license restructuring package, the fisheries expenditures match up with the division’s draft strategic plan. Why is this important? Because it is a transparent example of the DNR working with stakeholders to say “this is our plan, this is what we intend to do to benefit the resource,” and then following through when announcing where additional revenue would be allocated.
Another positive move that is still early in its development is an online database of on-the-ground habitat projects. Upon request from MUCC and other sporting and conservation organizations, the DNR began to inventory and map all of its projects, the species they benefit, and the partners involved. The first was released in 2011 as a clickable map (best viewed in Internet Explorer) that shows forest, fish, and wildlife projects by county (so far, only wildlife data is available for 2012). As this project advances, there should be little question as to what the DNR is doing for habitat and where the gaps are, giving individuals and organizations a chance to step up and help.
In summary, MUCC does believe that the Department has made great strides in accountability and transparency. MUCC also believes that the plans and reporting provided as part of the license proposal lays a roadmap that hunters, anglers and trappers can follow and see where their current license fees are spent and where additional dollars would go. With these plans in place and detailed accountability, it becomes much easier to see where shortcomings in the DNR budget may exist. And it also becomes much easier to see where additional funding could be put to use in making Michigan’s outdoors a better place.
With that information, it becomes a much simpler task to support a potential fee increase because MUCC — and license-buyers — can see that their money is being spent on the areas they value most.
Does this now mean that MUCC is giving blind support for the proposal? Not quite. There are still a few unanswered questions and some work to be done. But those questions have been asked and that work is in progress. On Friday, we’ll provide updates on the status of that work and provide MUCC’s current position on the license package.