GOP bill could shore up state parks funding

    Maybury State Park | Susan J. Demas

    Buried in the cavalcade of the GOP-controlled Legislature’s Lame Duck activity is a bill that could be a boon to funding for Michigan’s state parks.

    Goeff Hansen

    Senate Bill 1258, sponsored by term-limited state Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart), makes a simple change in how the state’s Recreation Passport operates. The bill passed the Michigan Senate 29-8 last week and is now before the House.

    For $11 a year, Michigan residents get unlimited access to Michigan’s more than 100 state parks, forests and recreation areas. Currently, motorists have to decide whether to opt in to paying the fee while renewing their license plates. SB 1258 changes it so you have to opt out.

    The bill is really a fitting tribute to the godmother of the Recreation Passport, former state Sen. Patty Birkholz (R-Saugatuck), who passed away in May. Michigan’s state parks were in rough shape after years of cuts and neglect. By 2009, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had to shut down a dozen campgrounds. She got the passport enacted the following year.

    Patty Birkholz

    “You know, a lot of people can’t afford a big vacation,” Birkholz told me while the legislation was being debated. “So they take a week and stay at one of our campgrounds. We can’t lose them.”

    SB 1258 would build upon Birkholz’s vision. Currently, 33 percent of motorists participate in the passport program, bringing in $29 million in revenue in fiscal year 2017, the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency reports. SB 1258 will increase revenue. The SFA reports that 50 percent participation means about $44 million and 75 percent participation results in roughly $66 million.

    That could help maintain Michigan’s natural areas for years and decades to come.

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    Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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