The Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission held its first meeting of 2015 on Monday. Commission Chair Rep. Tim O’Driscoll welcomed new members to the commission: Rep. Dale Lueck, Rep. Jason Metsa, Rep. Jerry Newton and Rep. Linda Slocum.
On a surprise note, O’Driscoll delayed electing new officers to give members the opportunity to talk among themselves regarding who they would like to chair the committee for the next two years. Some members have asked him to put his name forward as chair for another two years.
The members reviewed the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 2014 Forestry of Certification Report as presented by Craig Schmid and Ed Potter of the DNR Forestry Division. The DNR is required to report the forestry revenue attributable to trust lands, the costs certified against the trust lands, and how the certified costs and net revenues from the trust lands are distributed.
Bottom line: There was NO improvement in increasing revenue and decreasing expenses on forestry school trust lands managed by the DNR. The DNR reported net revenues of $2,278,000 to be transferred into the Permanent School Fund. This net revenue comes from the DNR’s inability to no longer certify fire suppression from gross revenues. The reason for this is the Legislature passed a law that prohibited the subtraction of fire suppression costs effective FY2014. The rationale is the DNR has the statewide responsibility for fire suppression which includes, fire protection for private/public landowners and counties none of which are not required to pay for state fire protection. We have argued for years…why should the school children be the only landowners in the State paying for fire protection…even when there is no fires on the school trust lands.
If the Legislature would not have stepped in and corrected this flaw, the fund would have once again seen very little to no net deposits in the area of forestry. This also means the Forestry Division has not been effective in reducing their own management and administrative costs in this area.
This once again points to the need for a Director of School Trust Lands outside the Department of Natural Resources.
Members seemed to agree with Sen. Eric Pratt when he wanted to “see something more akin to a true annual report.”
This report will be developed by Aaron VandeLinde, School Trust Lands Administrator, appointed by the Commissioner of the DNR. VandeLinde, responded to the request, “I will develop the report since the buck stops here.” His report will be presented to the Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission at their next meeting at 9 a.m. Monday February 23. The commission will also bring forth a list of legislative priorities.