The budget chess game continues. Gov. Pat Quinn made the latest move by outlining a “Doomsday scenario” should the General Assembly not endorse tax and fee increases in his proposed budget. Drastic repercussions mentioned include closing 60 state parks and laying off one-third of the staff at parks run by the Department of Natural Resources.
The budget chess game continues.
Gov. Pat Quinn made the latest move by outlining a “Doomsday scenario” should the General Assembly not endorse tax and fee increases in his proposed budget. Drastic repercussions mentioned include closing 60 state parks and laying off one-third of the staff at parks run by the Department of Natural Resources.
Quinn’s move followed a round of salvos by legislators against fee increases and discussion of cutting the DNR budget by 25 percent.
Yes, much of this is posturing.
But the fact is, without additional sources of revenue for DNR, additional cuts are likely. That’s the unhappy message DNR Director Marc Miller delivered this week to a gathering of outdoor writers at Rend Lake Resort.
“I didn’t take this job to preside over a slaughter. But we need strong advocates to help us get a strong budget,” said Miller, who stumped hard for fee increases introduced earlier this year.
Legislators are not so warm to proposals that include charging more for deer hunting permits, state waterfowl stamps and fishing and hunting licenses.
Asking people to pay more during tough economic times is a tough sell. And Illinois legislators can seldom be accused of making hard decisions in the best interest of the state.
What’s particularly unfortunate is that the most vulnerable fee proposal is also among the most sensible. That’s the $25 per year parking fee required to use state parks.
Charging for access to parks would finally generate revenue from new groups of users. Yes, hunters and anglers would pay. But so would bikers, birdwatchers and hikers — users who currently enjoy DNR properties at little or no cost.
I like the entrance fee idea much more than the plan to charge more for deer permits. Deer hunters already pay more than $12.2 million per year into the DNR coffers. Isn’t it time some of the wildlife watchers help pick up the tab for wildlife management?
Why Illinois is so hesitant to create entrance fees for parks is baffling. We charge ridiculous rates for most things.
And 42 neighboring states already charge to enter parks. That Illinois legislators aren’t willing to do the same proves they don’t understand how bad things are in DNR.
Many point to the agency under ex-director Brent Manning and say, “Why can’t we get back to those good old days?”
One reason is money. At its high point, Manning’s DNR budget had $100 million from the General Revenue Fund. His top staff count was 2,600.
Cuts since then (which actually started under Gov. George Ryan) have been drastic and well-documented. Still it’s telling to see just how far DNR has fallen. For 2009, DNR’s share of GRF is $50 million and the head count is 1,313.
Land management is down 215 positions since 2002, creating situations like the one at Illinois Beach State Park. In 2002 the park had 28 staffers. Now six employees run a site that attracts more than 1 million visitors per year.
We still have no turkey biologist. Calls to DNR go unanswered. Constituents can’t get simple questions answered. Permitting problems are worse than ever.
“I don’t necessarily want to raise fees, but given what we’re facing I don’t think we had much choice,” Miller said.
Unfortunately, I think he’s correct. Nobody wants to pay more to government. But DNR remains at rock bottom. Fee increases offer some chance to start rebuilding the agency.
TOO MUCH WATER: Recreational boaters are already being asked to stay off the flooded Illinois River. Now many campers will have to look elsewhere to make Memorial Day Weekend plans since high water has closed many Illinois River public campgrounds and parks.
Anderson Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area is closed to camping, boat launching and bank fishing. Rice Lake is also closed to camping and boating, as is Woodford. The lower level of the park is also flooded at Starved Rock while at Banner Marsh, only the Main Access boat ramp is open.
Given all that, anyone planning to camp or picnic along the Illinois River would be wise to call ahead first.
Et cetera: Today is the deadline to order native plants from Stark County Soil and Water Conservation District. Call (309) 286-2261, Ext. 3. ... Kathy Casstevens discovered coral root wild orchid blooming Wednesday at Starved Rock State Park. One of 188 wildflowers that bloom in the park from February through September, the rare orchid was on the way to St. Louis Canyon. ... A migratory bird walk will be held at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria Heights.
Jeff Lampe can be reached at email@example.com or (309) 686-3212.