MACD Issues Statement Condemning Changes in State Budget Appropriations Process

MACD Issues Statement Condemning Changes in State Budget Appropriations Process

Today, the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts sent a letter to members of the Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Natural Resources; urging them to reverse course on proposed changes in the appropriations process. The letter is as follows:

Dear Representatives,

The Michigan Association of Conservation Districts (MACD) urges you and your fellow caucus members to reverse course regarding HB 4394 and HB 4395, as well as other appropriations bills, and appropriate the entire proposed FY ’22 annual budget for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. As you are likely aware, many of the local conservation efforts in your districts are MDARD, DNR, and EGLE programs implemented by your local Conservation District staff, who are employed by local Conservation Districts, not the State of Michigan. Switching to a quarterly appropriations process will most certainly disrupt Conservation District operations and have a substantial negative impact on state-wide conservation efforts.

While the intended desire to increase monitoring, accountability, efficiency, and efficacy of government programming by appropriating funds on a quarterly basis is a noble endeavor; this new approach will disrupt and destabilize Michigan’s Conservation Districts in several ways. For example, since Conservation Districts hire and manage the employees who implement the programming for various state programs, such as MDARD’s Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative (CTAI), and Forestry Assistance Program (FAP); this new appropriations process will change how state contracts are administered. Using MAEAP as an example, this change will mean MAEAP contracts with Conservation Districts, which are currently evaluated and paid out on an annual basis, will be re-evaluated, and distributed every three months. Already, due to the uncertainty regarding funding renewal on an annual basis, Conservation Districts struggle to find appropriately educated and trained professionals to hire for one-year MAEAP contracts. By reducing the contracts to three months, it will mean further uncertainty regarding future employment for prospective employees. This will make attracting, interviewing, and hiring the actual staff to perform and implement the program, substantially more difficult for Michigan’s Conservation Districts. This will dramatically reduce the number of MAEAP evaluations performed and thus the overall efficacy of a widely popular agriculture conservation program. Many of your colleagues in the legislature are farmers who own MAEAP verified farms and they can speak to their experience with the program. In addition, the result of these changes will require more time constraints for Conservation Districts and even less resources for districts to achieve and sustain financial self-sufficiency. Moreover, quarterly distributions of grant dollars will be incredibly disruptive to Conservation Districts as many of them do not have sufficient cash flows to front paychecks for employees that are funded by state programs like MAEAP, CTAI and FAP. This will result in employees being furloughed or laid off while the legislature debates renewing funding, every three months. As you can imagine, this will dramatically affect employee retention, which will substantially destabilize conservation programs state-wide.

Without a doubt, the result of these disruptions will be a decline in the efficacy of programs like MAEAP, CTAI and FAP; because it will further contribute to a climate of uncertainty, which will mean that the farmers, landowners, and the general public – who are the beneficiaries of these programs – will be hurt the most. Moreover, the effects of reduced efficacy in conservation programs will most certainly lead to larger environmental challenges and problems down the road, which are far most costly to address when they become environmental emergencies such as the algae blooms in the Western Lake Erie Basin or Saginaw Bay: the drinking water sources for millions of people.

Moreover, this new budget approach will negatively impact Michigan State departments’ and local Conservation Districts’ capacity to leverage Federal grant dollars, such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and U.S. EPA Section 319 watershed grants, which often require matching funds from grantees. If either State Departments or Conservation Districts, lack the cash flow to match federal grant dollars, due to quarterly appropriations, this will literally make or break some of these proposals. Michigan could potentially lose out on millions of dollars in Federal support, at a time where protecting the Great Lakes and our wealth of natural resources is at a critical juncture. In addition, staff instability can result in Michigan farmers and landowners potentially losing access to Federal USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs that are implemented by local conservation districts. Many of these programs provide farmers and local landowners with free technical assistance and training, free engineering services, free site planning services, and/or financial support in times of global crisis or supply chain disruptions. The economic impact is immeasurable, and Michigan’s farmers will have further difficulty competing in the global or national market, when compared to other states that robustly fund Conservation Districts and related state department conservation programming on an annual basis.

The existing process of annual appropriations already allows for transparency, accountability, and efficacy. By changing the existing appropriations process in favor of quarterly appropriations, it will only create additional bureaucratic barriers, which will slow down government programming, making it substantially less effective and less efficient, which will have a tremendously negative impact on Michigan’s environment and economy. In essence, you will be spending more tax dollars for worse outcomes.

As Michiganders, we collectively pride ourselves in Michigan’s wealth of natural resources and the wealth of glacial soils. By making these changes to a process that is not currently broken, the legislature will be putting in jeopardy Michigan’s environment, natural resources, and the health and well-being of its people. Thus, MACD strongly urges you to reverse course and immediately appropriate the entire remaining proposed FY’22 budgets for MDARD, DNR, EGLE, and Michigan’s Conservation Districts, and resume the annual appropriations process. Should you or any of your staff members wish to meet with MACD to discuss these impacts further, we are happy to schedule a meeting at your earliest convenience.


Dan Moilanen
Executive Director

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