What is Proposal One?
What is Proposal One: It is an amendment that revises Section 35 of the Michigan Constitution. Any amendment to the constitution must be voted on at the ballot box. A yes vote would enact it, a no vote would not.
What problem is it looking to solve?: The quality of Michigan’s Natural Resources are declining, and the parks lack funding for conservation and further development. Funding sources for the parks are primarily linked to royalties from environmentally harmful projects such as fracking. Without these projects paying royalties, the parks have substantially less money. This is forcing the parks to be increasingly reliant upon the sale of entry tickets and services, such as boating/kayaking, in order to raise revenue.
What would Prop 1 do?: There are four key changes to the constitution:
1. Increase the cap on the endowment fund from 500 to 800 million. 2. Lower the required revenue transferred to the endowment fund annually
3. Change the required spending from [not less than 25% for land acquisition and no more than 25% for development] to [not less than 25% for land acquisition and not less than 25% for development] 4. Add a requirement that spending from the endowment fund be at least 20% capital improvement
How does this all work?: Money collected from the extraction of resources (mining, fracking etc) is sent to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF). Local groups apply to the MNRTF Board for money from this fund, and the board decides which projects get it. However, the constitution outlines that a certain proportion must be spent on certain types of projects (such as not less than 25% for land acquisition etc.) Not all of this money is spent in a given year, and some of it is placed into the Michigan Natural Resources Endowment Fund. This is a financial portfolio similar to a retirement fund or a stock investment. Money from this fund accumulates until it reaches a cap (it already reached its current cap of 500 million). The interest generated from investments of the fund are spent as grants.
Why are groups supporting it?: Proponents of the amendment point out that the proposal will increase the cap on the Natural Resources Endowment fund. It is also argued that diverting funds from land acquisition will help the parks fund infrastructure improvements.
Why are groups opposed?: Habitat loss is the number one cause of wildlife declines. Land acquisition spending is essential not only in creating new community parks, but ensuring critical habitat is protected for generations to come.
Under the proposed language, it is up to the discretion of the board to decide whether the majority of the funding will go towards land acquisition as originally intended. The trend of our parks system over time has been one that has increasingly deprioritized conservation. And there is real possibility for park improvements to be geared towards recreational infrastructure that is harmful to conservation goals. Money from related works could also be spent on for profit projects that lead the destruction of habitat, such as river dredging.
Proponents of the amendment are quick to point out that these impacts are only plausible, and the overall result could be one beneficial to conservation overall. A quick examination of the sponsors and supporters of the amendment however, begs the question of why for-profit industries are rallying behind proposal 1.
The conservation and healing of our natural resources ought to be prioritized. Unlike for-profit projects, we can’t change our mind once they’re gone.