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New Revenues Needed for Natural Resources Work in Illinois
UPDATE: Since first posting this Policy Update, the IDNR Budget Sustainability bill SB 1566 did not receive the required 3/5 vote needed to pass since the bill was called after May 31, 2012.
The work of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has been severely hampered in recent years due to major budget cuts and loss of staff. Over the past decade, IDNR's General Revenue Fund (GRF) appropriation has fallen from $107 million in FY 2002 to $48 million in FY 2012. During the same time, IDNR staff have decreased from 2,600 to 1,200 employees.
In a presentation by agency officials, IDNR estimates that continued cuts to its budget will significantly deplete the agency's resources, putting such important budget items as the State Parks Fund and the Natural Areas Acquisition Fund (NAAF) in the red. The Governor's proposed FY 2013 budget reduces IDNR's budget by 13.5 percent.
Several proposals are under consideration in Springfield to help ensure long-term financial stability for IDNR. Two revenue bills have been introduced in the House that establish new authority for IDNR to charge fees for certain services and permits. HB 5789 would allow IDNR to establish and manage entrance and parking fees at state parks as nearby states do. Earlier this year, IDNR officials reported that further cuts to the Department would put some state parks in jeopardy of closing. A new user fee-based revenue stream would provide a stable and reliable source of funding for the operations and maintenance of ailing state parks. The bill is currently stalled in the Senate Revenue Committee.
The second revenue bill, SB 1566-SCA2, is known as the IDNR Budget Sustainability bill. It would provide supplemental revenues generated by broad-based user and permit fees. IDNR currently issues a number of permits for oil and gas, mining, fishing, dams, boating, falconry, and other scientific-related services, yet the department charges a minimal fee or no fee to cover the costs of these services. The bill proposes various increases to these existing fees and establishes new fees for certain permits and programs. The bill does not include a state park entrance fee for residents, only for nonresidents. Other non-permit related fees included in the language are a natural area registry, conservation stewardship program, environmental consulting services, and a $2 vehicle registration surcharge. The total annual estimate for the new revenues in SB 1566 are $32 million, more than enough to cover the amount proposed to be cut in the FY13 budget. Since HB 5789 is stalled, SB 1566 is now advancing to the House floor for debate. CMAP supports increased funding to IDNR through user fees that are directly tied to the work IDNR is responsible for; however, vehicle fees should be directed towards transportation improvements.
In addtition to these two revenue bills, the department called on the General Assembly to help streamline statutory reponsibilities by removing obsolete roles no longer performed by IDNR. HB 404 would reduce unneeded or duplicative mandates and costs for the department. This bill unanimously passed both chambers.
A central goal of GO TO 2040 is to improve communities' livability through preservation of natural resources and open space. Our region benefits from many programs that are at risk of being severely reduced or eliminated altogether. Specifically, more land acquisition for open space and recreational facilities is needed in our region, and much of this effort is funded through grants from the IDNR. A problem that DNR has faced in the past has been reductions and interagency borrowing from special funds like the NAAF and the Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) Program, which hinders local efforts to increase access to parks and open space. IDNR's coordination of water conservation programs, whether through the Lake Michigan Allocation program or continuing state and regional water supply planning effort, is also critical to GO TO 2040 implementation. CMAP supports increased funding to IDNR to achieve open space and land conservation goals as well as water resource protection objectives set forth in GO TO 2040. The plan also recommends that the General Assembly should halt diversions from the OSLAD and NAAF funds.