Fate of habitat funds unclear in Springfield

Springfield – As state legislators returned to Springfield to
wrap up their fall veto session, a number of factions around the
state anxiously began a vigil of watching and waiting.

Conservationalists, sportsmen and fans of state parks each were
hoping for a minor miracle – or at least some sort of stumbling
block that would prevent wildlife fund sweeps,_DNR budget cuts and
park closings.

As this issue of Illinois Outdoor News went to press, there was
little news to report.

Aaron Kuehl, director of conservation programs for Illinois
Pheasants Forever, was working overtime at the Capitol, trying to
corner state representatives to discuss conservation issues. On the
second day of the session, he was headed into a breakfast meeting
with lawmakers and Acting DNR Director Sam Flood.

“No one really knows how it’s all going to come down, but I’m
hoping to get something out of them,” said Kuehl, whose
organization has criticized Gov. Rod Blagojevich for signing into
law House Bill 790.

The new law authorized “sweeping” dedicated funds – including
wildlife habitat funds – into a special budget restoration fund.
That fund was offered as a way to keep 11 state parks open.

Opponents argued that a law was needed to allow the state to
spend the money from those dedicated funds. On Oct. 6, the Senate
sent Blagojevich Senate Bill 1103, which authorized spending the
money to keep parks open.

As of Nov. 20, the governor had not signed SB 1103 into law. He
had 60 days from Oct. 6 to sign it.

“Many feel he will wait until the last minute, which would be
early December,” Kuehl said. “But again, no one really knows.”

Meanwhile, per Blagojevich’s orders, 11 state parks and more
than a dozen historic sites are set to close on Nov. 30. The
planned closings have many in the state rallying to keep their
favorite parks open and save hundreds of jobs.

For his part, Blagojevich opened the session by proposing a new
round of belt-tightening and borrowing, calling for billions of
dollars in new cash from the federal government to plug a gaping $2
billion state budget hole.

Blagojevich said he intends to approach state lawmakers for
permission to cut spending within state agencies – including DNR –
by 8 percent.

If no action was taken on the budget during the fall session,
the governor is expected to call the legislators back to the
Capitol at the end of this month or December.

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