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On one hand, you have the Minnesota Office of Tourism urging people to visit Minnesota, but on the other, you have the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which appears to be warning people to come at their own risk, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
That’s right. While the tourism people plead with Minnesotans and others to enjoy state treasures, the DNR is sending out e-mails warning would-be visitors that the campsite they love or the picnic ground they want to reserve for the big family reunion may not be open next summer because of cutbacks in the DNR’s budget.
The sky-is-falling e-mail is being sent to all who included an e-mail address with their reservations for state park space. It was written by Bill Morrissey, longtime director of the DNR’s division of parks and recreation.
The message starts grimly, “As a valued customer, I want to let you know about Minnesota State Parks current budget deficit and what that might mean for you and your plans to visit or stay in state parks. We are facing a deficit of more than $2.6 million…”
It gets gloomier, “Recently, the Department of Finance estimated that the state deficit would climb to $3 billion. If this estimate becomes a reality and the state budget is balanced entirely through spending cuts … only 12 state parks would be able to offer camping and lodging starting July 1, 2003. That means 54 state parks would not have the funding available to offer any camping or lodging … ”
And then crashes into a deep funk, “We will not have adequate funds to care for the natural and cultural treasures in the 72 state parks and recreation areas. Facilities — visitor centers, campgrounds, showers and bathrooms — across the state will not open … ”
Finally, it gets blatantly political. Morrissey writes that outdoor lovers could be spared if the Legislature would support a controversial constitutional amendment that would dedicate a half-cent increase in the sales tax to the DNR and other agencies involved in the environment and natural resources.
Nobody seems to know how many of these dire e-mails have been sent to people who just wanted to reserve a spot to pitch a tent and roast a hot dog.
But this is not the work of a renegade bureaucrat. Morrissey has headed the state parks division of the DNR for 15 years. His message was cleared by the office of the commissioner of the DNR before Morrissey hit the “send” button.
Steve Morse, deputy commissioner of the DNR, said that in other times the message might have seemed unusual, especially the blatant political lobbying for a new funding source. “But everything is out of the norm now,” he said.
He said the Ventura administration has encouraged all state commissioners “to talk candidly to the public. This is Bill’s way of being candid with the stakeholders.”
Morse insists that Morrissey is only writing economic truth. He said the invisible cuts — closing two regional DNR offices, cutting middle management, eliminating 24 seasonal naturalists, ending a white pine restocking program — have been done. If the administration of Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty tries to balance the budget by making across-the-board cuts, the DNR will have to make cuts that Minnesotans and visitors to the state will see and feel.
“Bill’s just pointing out that there are impacts,” Morse said.