DNR wins and loses with budget
Written by State Journal-Register   
Thursday, 02 June 2005 17:28
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to close a tax loophole and use the revenue to restore cuts to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources wasn't part of the state budget passed Tuesday night.


But some of the funding sought by Quinn was included anyway.

"We were a little disappointed the legislature would not step up on that one," he said Wednesday of efforts to eliminate a tax credit for landfills that recover methane gas produced by decomposing garbage. "We put a lot of effort into closing the loophole because we'd like to have that be the dedicated, earmarked funding for conservation - not just for this budget year, but for every year in the future."

Quinn said closing the loophole could generate as much as $25 million.

"So I'm not giving up on that," he said. "I see it as a key source of revenue for the things we need to do for natural resources."

The fiscal 2006 operating budget for DNR will be about $193.7 million, up from $189.6 million.

Quinn had been lobbying for more funding for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a combination state-federal initiative that pays landowners to retire environmentally sensitive areas - especially in floodplains - and plant trees. He also pushed to restore funding for the Conservation 2000 grant program and for 50 state parks workers to be hired to replace some of the staff lost to layoffs.

"I talked to the budget director yesterday morning, and they have put in $10 million for CREP," he said. "There is $11 million for C2000, and they put a couple million dollars back in the budget to restore some of the cuts DNR had received."

Ann Sundeen, chief financial officer for DNR, said some parts of the budget, including capital spending and the effects of special fund sweeps, still were undergoing analysis Wednesday. State agencies that share C2000 funds, including the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency, will meet to see how much money actually is available.

Overall, Sundeen said, several key areas were funded.

"Actually, I was pretty pleased," she said. "We were still able to get 25 (state parks workers) included. We received the money to operate the World Shooting Complex, and we received money for the first time to pay for the transaction costs for the point of sale (automated license system) so it won't cost hunters anything (extra)."

Dave Kelm, coalition coordinator for Partners for Parks and Wildlife, said funds his group sought to protect were left out of fund sweeps.

"We were exceedingly successful again this year," he said. "In the sweeps we've been working against all session, the Open Space Land Acquisition and Development Fund, Natural Areas Acquisition Fund and C2000 were removed from the final list of funds to be swept."

Quinn said more work is needed.

"Now, we'll have to continue to keep the pressure on to get a dedicated, earmarked funding source every year for CREP, C2000 and I'd like to see even more money devoted to DNR," he said. "Cuts have been way too severe over the last couple of years. I think it was a step finally in the right direction to give them a little more money last night."

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