DNR Budget Overview –Focus on the General Fund

Spring has sprung (maybe?), which means it’s appropriations season in the Michigan Legislature! This will be the first look in a series of blogs about the DNR budget.
Usually a boring, frustrating, and confusing process all-in-one, Michigan sportsmen and women have often been left on the sidelines during appropriations season since nearly all of our wildlife and fisheries conservation programs run exclusively on user-paid restricted funds rather than the general fund (taxpayer dollars). Instead of battling over general funds with Medicare, prisons, and colleges; conservation programs run only on what our license fees pay for, along with federal matching dollars that come from excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment and a few grants.
That’s right folks, virtually none of your $8.4 BILLION in general tax dollars go to support outdoor recreation and natural resources conservation in Michigan—instead going to Community Health (35%), Corrections (22%), Higher Education (13%), Human Services (12%), and on down from there. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development get about 1% of the general fund COMBINED.
So when I say “Focus on the General Fund”, pull out your spectacles when it comes to examining general fund expenditures in the DNR. What does that small general fund budget pay for at the DNR? Numbers are based on DNR’s FY 2011-2012 Operating Budget, which has a total General Fund appropriation of $13,831,200 (5%) out of a total budget of $305 million:
  • 27 percent goes to communications and customer service ($3,676,300)
  • 26 percent to Forest, Mineral, and Fire Management ($3,654,800)-mainly forest fire protection and non-motorized recreation
  • 11 percent to Wildlife Division ($1,566,400) for wildlife disease issues, including TB, as well as the oversight of the 403 facilities in the captive cervid program
  • 10 percent to rent for DNR office space
  • 9 percent to Law Enforcement ($1,252,200) particularly for things other than game and fish enforcement
  • 8 percent to Information Technology ($1,08,500)
  • And the remaining 9 % is spread among other programs.
If Governor Snyder gets his way though (see Executive Budget Recommendation summary), the DNR will see a $5.5 million surge in general funds coming to fund specific new programs in Fiscal Years 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. This new General Fund money would go to:
  • $5 million for a summer youth employment initiative, which would be a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) type program for at-risk youth in urban areas to teach them about conservation through their summer employment (while getting some much needed conservation work completed by this summer program)
  • $500,000 for small dam removal grants, to be administered by the DNR. In the FY 2013 budget, there would also be a $2 million one-time General Fund payment to get things started.
Like all state departments, the DNR is not without considerable increases for insurance and retirement expenses for their current and past employees, despite the fact that the number of permanent employees has declined by 21 percent in the last 15 years. Insurance costs have increased 75% since Fiscal Year 1997 (the last time there was a license fee increase) and retirement has soared up by 109%.
Next topics to talk about on the horizon include: What else would you like to know as this process moves forward?

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