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DNR director “cautiously optimistic” about bill to fund parks

November 27, 2012 at 07:33 PM

The State Journal-Register

A funding measure to help the Illinois Department of Natural Resources address a backlog of repairs piling up at state parks could get another look during the veto session.

The Illinois General Assembly began its fall session today. Remaining session dates include Wednesday and Thursday this week, and Dec. 4 - 6.

The bill, SB 1566, would add $2 to the cost of a $99 license plate renewal and provide some money for the upkeep of state parks.

The bill failed in the waning hours of the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session.

SB 1566 could eventually bring in $32 million annually for DNR.

DNR director Marc Miller said he is “cautiously optimistic” the bill will be called and passed this week.

“We have had the opportunity to talk to more of our senators to let them know the importance of (this bill), and we have more yes votes than we had previously,” he said. “When we tell them we have $750 million worth of backlogged capital projects and maintenance, that carries a great deal of weight.”

Miller said the maintenance has been deferred for years.

“All of us know these state parks are very important,” he said. “We can’t have these things falling down around us and still have a quality experience.”

The agency has seen its share of general revenue funds cut in half by the Illinois General Assembly over the past decade from about $100 million to less than $50 million.

As a result, DNR has come to rely more and more on funds supplied by those who buy hunting and fishing licenses, permits and pay camping and other fees.

About 40 constituent groups worked with Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, during the last legislative session to come up with a funding solution.

Aaron Kuehl, Illinois conservation director for Pheasants Forever, said constituent groups are mobilizing to contact state senators that may be on the fence.

“We’re contacting legislators that haven’t committed one way or the other, and trying to get their support for the bill,” he said.

Miller said he has received assurances from Gov. Pat Quinn and the office of management and budget that the new funds will not be diverted or swept for other uses and DNR’s share of general revenue will remain level.

With severe budget pressures facing Illinois, the possibility exists that DNR will lose more general revenue funds if it increases revenue from other sources.

“That is one of the great concerns,” Miller said. “(Legislators and constituents) are concerned about what is going to happen to the (general tax revenue) money,”

Miller said protection against sweeps and commitments to DNR not to siphon off more money should put legislators at ease.

“It is part of the winning argument,” he said.

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

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