Budget cuts could close Wildlife Prairie
SPRINGFIELD — Wildlife Prairie State Park conceivably could close if it does not get back $828,200 in state funding that Gov. Rod Blagojevich eliminated when he made $1.4 billion in budget cuts, a park official said Thursday.
But James Tomlin, vice president and treasurer of the Forest Park Foundation, also said he and other officials are “hopeful” the money ultimately will be available for the nature park. The foundation operates Wildlife Prairie State Park near Edwards under a contract with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“Without state funding, the future of the park is questionable,” Tomlin said. “We would be very disappointed if that (budget cut) is the final word. We don’t think it is.”
The park, which features bison, deer, wolves and other animals native to Illinois in their natural settings, has strong support from lawmakers from the Peoria area and the rest of the state, he said.
“They say it’s not over yet,” Tomlin said. “We think we have a lot of support within DNR, also, as to the importance of the park.”
It’s too soon to know exactly how the budget cut would affect the park, he added. The $828,200 represents about half of the park’s operating costs, with additional money coming from the Forest Park Foundation and from fees, he said.
DNR spokeswoman Paris Ervin agreed that it would be premature to talk about the potential impact of the budget cut to Wildlife Prairie.
The governor on Wednesday used his line-item veto powers to trim funding for hundreds of state government programs and services, including the general revenue fund money that was allocated for Wildlife Prairie’s park operations and improvements. Blagojevich said he had to take drastic action to balance the state budget that lawmakers sent him because it was $2 billion out of balance.
Restoring the funding to the park would require lawmakers to override the governor’s veto. That means three-fifths of the members of the Illinois Senate and the House of Representatives would have to vote to override.
Whether that will happen is uncertain.
“I think it is possible,” said Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria. “I think if we had a chance to vote on it, that would happen. I really question whether (Senate) President Emil Jones is going to let us even address the override of the vetoes - on any of them.”
Indeed, Jones said later in the day that the Senate might not head back to Springfield until the fall. At that point, it would be too late to try to override any of the governor’s budget cuts.
The House plans to return to the State Capitol next week to consider restoring specific budget cuts, House Speaker Michael Madigan said.
But Jones does not intend to call senators back next week. The Senate already has passed revenue-generating proposals needed to pay for the budget that was sent to the governor, and the House has not, he said.
“If the House (members) come to their senses and do the responsible thing and pass the revenue to support the budget of all those things that the governor vetoed out of the budget, then we may reconsider” returning to Springfield before the fall, he said.
Risinger called the governor “short-sighted” for slicing Wildlife Prairie’s budget.
“I think it is a major mistake for us to jeopardize losing that resource,” he said. “I’m not sure we’re right on the verge of losing that resource, but certainly the only way you make that money up is by raising fees for people that attend the park and so forth.”
Philanthropist William Rutherford created what was originally called Wildlife Prairie Park and co-founded the Forest Park Foundation. Rutherford said for years that he wanted to turn over ownership of the park to the state, and the transaction finally took place in 2000.