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DETROIT-Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources has spent $16 million to buynew land from private owners in Michigan, but has not paid property taxes italready owes on 4.5 acres of state land, said a conservative think-tankbased in Midland, MI.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy said Wednesday that although MDNRofficials knew last year that the agency was unlikely to fulfill its summer2003 tax obligations, they nonetheless approved acquisition of $16 millionworth of new land to further expand the state’s vast property inventory.

“Any private landowner unable to pay his or her taxes would be forced eitherto sell the property or face forfeiture,” said Diane Katz, director ofscience, environment, and technology policy for the Mackinac Center. “But itis the unparalleled power of the state to ignore its debt while at the sametime increase spending,” she added.

Katz said the loss of tax revenue to communities, coupled with cuts in staterevenue sharing, will likely cripple the budgets of counties and townshipswhere the DNR ranks as the single largest landholder.

The agency controls nearly 60% of the property in Roscommon County,for example, and between 30% and 50% in at least nine others. Overall, some 12.5% of Michigan’s land area is owned by the agency.

“Taxpayers will have to shoulder at least some of the DNR’s tax debt tosustain operations and meet bond payments,” Katz said. “Moreover, localofficials will continue to be called upon to provide police, fire andemergency medical services to the millions of visitors to state parks andwilderness areas.”

DNR officials say the agency is short some $1.5 million for summer taxes,one of two annual payments that total about $16 million statewide. A shortfall of $540,000 on last winter’s taxes was made up by transferringfunds from other DNR programs.

“The DNR should be compelled to sell property at least equal to itsoutstanding tax liabilities. After all, any private citizen would be forcedto do no less,” Katz said.

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