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.
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.
“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.