The Omnibus Environment Budget (SF 844) sets the two year budget for state park and trail operations. The good news is the budget should provide sufficient funding to avoid staffing and service cutbacks in state parks and trails, thanks to a key last-minute concession won by Gov. Dayton that gives the MnDNR a department-wide operating adjustment from the general fund, intended to cover inflationary increases. In addition, the budget provides important funding for local park and trail grant programs.
The bad news:
- The budget cuts the state parks and trails general fund appropriation from $27.4 million per year down to $24.4 million per year. This is particularly disappointing when you take into account the state’s $1.6 billion surplus.
- The budget backfills the $3 million general fund cut with a 40 percent increase in state park entrance fees. The annual pass will cost $35 and daily $7 (up from $25 and $5). Several reasons why this is unfortunate:
- Such a steep hike in entry fees could discourage people from visiting state parks, particularly lower income people who deserve access to state parks just as much as everyone else. This fee makes Minnesota higher than neighboring states and higher than many visitors have indicated they are willing to pay in surveys.
- Maintaining the $27.4 million in general fund support from FY2016 would have provided more funding than the 40 percent fee increase. And over the long-term, that would have been more sustainable.