State can’t get its funding act together
BY DALE BOWMAN firstname.lastname@example.org June 8, 2012 8:42PM
No matter what the opinion of Gov. Pat Quinn’s political skills, he has a long history of supporting the outdoors. As lieutenant governor in 2005, he helped to save Plum Island. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media
WILD OF WEEK
Cathie Healy Kramer
photographed this great blue heron at the entrance to Johns Manville off Route 6 over the I&M Canal.
July 14-15: Gurnee. Registration begins at 9 a.m. Monday at (847) 856-1229.
Saturday: Sgt. Tommy’s Kids’ Fishing Day (every child is given a rod and reel to fish with and take home, lunch and casting instruction), 10 a.m.-
2 p.m., Herrick Lake, Wheaton. Event is free, but registration is appreciated at sgttommyskids.org.
Thursday: Lake Michigan fisheries biologist Dan Makauskas, Riverside Fishing Club, 7 p.m., La Grange American Legion, riversidefishingclub.com.
June 23-24: Youth and women, St. Charles Sportsmen’s Club, Elburn, email@example.com.
Updated: July 11, 2012 10:18AM
Unkempt trails, chipped picnic tables, dozens of retirements at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and failed bills in the General Assembly. Illinois outdoors is in a political mess.
And I’m not overly encouraged by failed recent maneuverings in Springfield. Some of those also triggered my sense of ‘‘Watch it, something’s going down.’’
Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) is an adroit politician. He began pulling together a coalition last fall to build a comprehensive IDNR Sustainability Package. On May 21, it was introduced as House Bill 4193.
In a general sense, I am all for it. It would have amassed about $32 million for the IDNR and state parks, primarily through a
$2 charge on license plates. That’s a fee increase (tax increase? revenue enhancement?).
But there’s cleverness here that I am uncomfortable with as a citizen. By pulling the IDNR toward its own funding, it means the IDNR would be less dependent on General Revenue Funds. As an outdoors guy, I am all for that. As a taxpayer, I suspect it’s a way to sneak through ‘‘revenue enhancement’’ in the guise of helping save our state parks.
I also wonder why there’s only $32 million in dedicated funding. The bare-bones IDNR budget was $48.9 million, less than half of what it was a decade ago. If we are going to go to fund the IDNR in a sustainable manner, why not go for it? Figure out how to draw in at least $50 million, then go out and get the public behind it.
That’s probably the part of this process that most bothered me. I felt like various leaders of conservation groups were led to Mount Sinai, shown the tablets, then told to go down and set their people free — or least contact their legislators for support.
That’s not getting the public invested in the process; that’s getting the masses to line up.
That sense of being led around was heightened Friday, May 25.
Beware anything that goes down on a Friday in Springfield. Fridays are when wheeling-and-dealing is done to go undetected over the lesser weekend news cycles. HB4193 was changed to Senate Bill 1566. The reason given was so the bill could move more quickly in the closing days of the General Assembly. Unfortunately, it also meant it needed two-thirds approval of the Senate and missed passage there by three votes.
Virtually everybody involved in the process worries about the possibility of dedicated funds being swept. There was some language of protection in SB1566. Was it enough? I don’t know.
In a letter dated May 25, Jerry Stermer, the director of the governor’s Office of Management and Budget, sent a letter to Mautino that said, among other things: ‘‘I want you to know that the Quinn administration will not propose sweeping these funds. . . . He will continue to protect those funds from diversion in the future.’’
Though I doubt Quinn’s political skills, I trust him. He has a long history of supporting outdoors. I’m not worried about him sweeping IDNR funds; I am worried about the next governor doing it. That’s why I would like to see more transparency in this process.
Mautino might try to resurrect the package this year. I hope he does. But I also hope he goes around the state and holds public meetings to explain the process and the bill, much like is done with deer and waterfowl meetings.
Then we might see people line up with their hearts and mean it.