Like a hiking trail through a state park, the path to Minnesota's next budget has lots of political twists and turns ahead.
But when we do finally reach the end of that road, one thing that might be there is an increase in the cost of visiting a state park. Or going fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, boating, ... you get the idea.
Lots of things in the big budget proposal Gov. Mark Dayton made this week will get taken out or changed by the Legislature – and the fee increases from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) might be among them. But on Wednesday the DNR explained why they're asking for more money.
Several funds running low
The DNR is a $1.1 billion dollar agency and its budget is broken up into a bunch of different pots of money, with each one funding a certain part of what the DNR does. (Learn more about the DNR budget here.)
- Game & Fish fund – this pays for things like stocking lakes with fish and managing wildlife habitat. The DNR says it's on pace to run out of money in 2019.
- Parks & Trails fund – Minnesota's parks are getting so popular the DNR says it can't keep up. Visits have gone up 30 percent in three years and the maintenance and staffing is starting to fall short of what the 10 million visitors a year are expecting.
- Conservation Officers – the DNR says positions for 21 of these wardens are vacant right now, leaving a lot of the state unpatrolled.
- Recreational Trails – Money for snowmobile and ATV trails will run out next year, they say, and so will the water recreation account that pays for boat landings. They've stopped grooming cross-country ski trails.
They're also asking for money to fight invasive species, replant forests, and make tech upgrades. (More specifics about the DNR's various funds are here.)
How big would the increases be?
A fishing license for a Minnesota resident would go from $22 to $25. A deer hunting license from $30 up to $34. An annual park permit would go from $25 to $30.
The DNR says 15 percent of its budget comes from state taxpayers through the Legislature. The other 85 percent comes mostly from these user fees, though there's also some from the Legacy amendment sales tax Minnesotans approved and some from the state lottery.
Will it happen?
It depends on those twists and turns in the budget process. Cutting taxes is a priority for the Republican-controlled legislature. We may not learn the fate of the DNR's request until the end-of-the-session budget bargaining between lawmakers and the governor in May.
Some outdoors groups and business owners have lined up behind the DNR's request. The owner of Cycle, Path, and Paddle in Crosby, Minnesota, told the News Tribune the state bike trail system has "transformed our area."
John Lenczewski, executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited, told the Associated Press: “I think in general the public is supportive, but a lot of legislators think, ‘I can’t vote for a tax increase or a fee increase,’ even if people are clamoring for it.”