April 26, 2017 Community news from the prairie to the lakes  
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  State Park funding proposals don’t meet need
  by MANKATO FREE PRESS, Editorial

There are certain to be a number of showdowns between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP-led Legislature as policy, spending and tax cut bills roll out.

But there is one budget bill moving through the Legislature — for funding state parks — that is likely to bring more broad public passion on lawmakers than the other bills.

Minnesotans love their state parks. And more are loving them all the time. The number of state park permits jumped 40 percent from 2012 to 2016.

That’s why funding bills making their way through both chambers don’t come near giving parks the support they need.

By 2019 the parks’ operating budget would be underfunded by up to $5.8 million under the Senate budget proposal and $1.5 million under the House plan.

The proposals come on the heels of years of lower funding for the parks, even as the system grows and use of parks and trails rises.

The level of funding proposed would likely lead to a shorter camping season, shuttered facilities and lack of trail maintenance at some parks and other cutbacks to programming and services.

The DNR has ensured those who use the parks pay a portion of park operating budgets. Costs for permits, camping and other fees have been steadily increased, including a planned hike in annual park fees from $25 to $30 this year. Those who use the parks more should help fund them. But parks, state or local, are rightly an amenity that should be largely funded by taxpayers.

But the parks and trails system, which used to get half its funding from the state’s general fund and the rest from fees and other sources, now gets only a fifth of its budget from the general fund. The rest comes from fees and dedicated funding such as the state’s Legacy Amendment and lottery money proceeds.

The cost of operating the state’s parks and trails is going to rise some each year considering inflation and increased usage of parks, which Gov. Dayton considered when he proposed a modest $8.9 million budget increase over two years.

Both sides need to work together to create a funding package that supports the parks and trails that Minnesotans value.

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