As many of you know, we have been working for several months to reform or stop Michigan Senate Bill 248, also known as the Land Cap Bill. The version which now sits on the desk of the Governor’s office runs the risk of permanently placing a limit on the amount of State-owned public land in the northern lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan.
Although the issue of State land ownership and future land acquisitions is one that needs a comprehensive review and reform, the establishment of a permanent cap which gives no consideration to regional public land ownership differences and potential future events is not the right approach. Additionally, many have speculated that this is merely the first step in a chain of events which could lead to the end of the constitutionally protected Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF). As you likely know, the MNRTF was established in 1976 and became the first of its kind nationally to fund recreational land purchases and later, public recreational projects, with State of Michigan-owned royalties from oil and gas development.
It is also worth noting that contrary to much of what has been written on the topic, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund continues to pay property taxes on its acquisitions and should not be confused with tax-reverted lands which receive payments which are commonly referred to as “Swamp Tax” rates.
Since many of us have chosen to live here in northern Michigan because of its vast array of public outdoor recreational opportunities, it is critical that we not be hypocritical or short-sighted as we attempt to solve Michigan’s economic challenges. The reality is that our public lands have not created the economic problems which face this State.
Many supporters of SB-248 have argued that Michigan’s public land as well as potential future acquisitions represent a restraint to Michigan’s overall economy and especially revenue to State and local units of government. If this premise were correct, then states with a higher percentage of public land should have lower revenues to State and local units of government, and most likely should lag behind Michigan in other categories of economic measure.
However, research recently conducted suggests that there is no basis for this contention. Results show that of the 14 states which have more public land than does Michigan (as a percentage of total land area), 8 have greater per capita state and local tax revenue, 10 have higher per capita personal incomes and 12 have lower unemployment rates. For those who may want to assume that this is a statistical anomaly attributable to rural western states, those stateswith a greater percentage of public land than Michigan include Florida, New York and California.
The point is not that Michigan should aggressively acquire more public land, but rather the argument that Michigan’s economic challenges are somehow linked to the perception that Michigan has too much public land is simply not based on fact.
What is clear is that our state’s lack of economic diversity and what we do with the other 78% of our land area is far more relevant. Combine Michigan’s $17+ billion tourism economy with the fact that Michigan ranks 8th in population, sells the 3rd most hunting licenses and 5th most fishing licenses, most would contend that we are making very effective use of our public lands.
If you are as concerned as am I about the adverse potential implication of SB-248, we would ask that you call or write Governor Rick Snyder and ask him to veto SB-248. This is truly bad public policy.
PHONE: (517) 373-3400
Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909