The Opener: 2015 New Year's Financial Resolutions

2015_new_yearHopefully, you are recovered from the holiday excesses by now and getting back into the swing of things for 2015. My cream cheese, butter, and sugar levels are getting back into balance after binging on many of my holiday favorites. Many people may also find that their pocketbooks feel a little light at the end of the year. Maybe one of your 2015 New Year's resolutions involve money: paying off debt, saving for retirement, education, or some other goal, or sticking to a budget.
For people, the way they go about this is pretty much a personal decision and everyone has a way of managing their money that works for them. Government doesn't exactly operate in the same way, but at least in the State of Michigan, we are required to live within a balanced budget each year. That annual budget outlines every revenue item that comes into the state and every expense in fairly broad categories. It is at best an estimate, because revenues may be higher or lower than projected for a variety of reasons. It is a tricky thing to keep track of because many of our revenue streams are restricted in how they can be used—imagine having 100 different checkbooks in order to pay for your groceries, mortgage, and other basic living expenses.
Revenue projections are critical in state fish and wildlife agencies like the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, who basically live off of restricted funds from hunters, anglers, and trappers, compared to other state departments that have more steady and predictable revenue. But in 2014, Michigan saw a huge shift in how that money comes in in the form of a major license restructuring, not to mention bad weather that kept some hunters out of the woods.
This license restructuring was intended to bring in about $11.7 million additional revenue during Fiscal Year 2014 (which ended on September 30, 2014) and more than $19 million during Fiscal Year 2015. In 2014, this money was divvied up into 13 "buckets" including fisheries management, wildlife management, habitat grants to partners, conservation officers, and marketing and education. This was expanded for 2015 to include funding for the newly formed Michigan Wildlife Council and one-time funding for the Great Lakes research vessel now in production.
Did we get what we paid for? Did we really see more funding come in as a result of the license fee increase and how was this money used? This is a question that both MUCC and the Michigan Conservation Coalition have asked the DNR and Natural Resources Commission. Finally, next week, we will see an answer to both of these questions. The January 15 meeting of the NRC will be held at MSU's Diagnostic Center and at 8:30 AM, the NRC Committee on Finance and Administration will publicly review how these additional Game and Fish funds were spent.
As we kick off the new year here at MUCC, here are my 5 New Year's Conservation Money Management Resolutions. While more than one third of resolutions are broken by January, I hope you find that we stick to it longer than my all-kale and salmon diet does this year (kidding!). MUCC resolves to:
  1. Ensure that hunters, anglers, and trappers are represented in budget discussions
  2. Hold the DNR accountable for producing important game and fish outcomes with that money, be it habitat acres improved, fish planted, poachers caught, or recruitment and retention of sportsmen and women.
  3. Protect Game and Fish funds from questionable uses
  4. Analyze major changes to participation in the outdoors and suggest license changes or marketing opportunities
  5. Keep our members in the loop, including letting you know how and where your hunting, fishing, and trapping license monies are being used but also how to get involved in those decisions.
 

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