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From Gonwer News Service -


A proposal to sharply cut travel in the Department of Natural Resources would cripple the department’s efforts to keep conservation officers out in the field, an official told the Senate Natural Resources Subcommittee which reported SB 1068 to the full committee on Wednesday.

The budget would total $249.5 million, $24.4 million in general funds, a cut of 1.6 percent overall both from the current year and from Governor Jennifer Granholm’s proposal.

The budget concurs with Ms. Granholm’s proposal on making payments in lieu of taxes by replacing some general fund and state restricted monies with a portion of the sales tax revenues going into local government revenue sharing. As part of the proposal, the mills assessed on the property would be kept at the 2003 level as well as freezing the value of the property.

The budget also replaces provisions Ms. Granholm deleted such as indemnification for agricultural livestock killed by wolves or coyotes, and a provision that would allow the state to accept coronary defibrillators in state parks.

However, it stripped language put in by Ms. Granholm directing the department to purchase American-made goods if of comparable quality and competitively priced. Ironically, former Governor John Engler typically did not include such language in his budget proposals and lawmakers typically restored it.

But the major proposal that drew concern from Kelli Sobel, administrative services deputy, was a provision to cut all travel by department officials in half, and to ban state-paid out of state travel altogether, a provision that would save $4.6 million.

If that were to take place, Ms. Sobel said, then the department could not do its job. “There is no way we would be able to maintain our conservation officers” under such a provision, she said. “It would absolutely cripple us,” she said, because a conservation officer’s vehicle is his or her office.
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