Illinois DNR plan may get a second go-round

Springfield — After failure of Senate Bill 1566 – also known as the “DNR Sustainability” bill – two questions anglers in the state immediately asked were, “Does this mean there is still a chance for a Fish Management Fund?” and “Does the group lobbying for the Fish Management Fund still want to pursue it?”

The answers are “Yes” and “Absolutely yes.”

Retired DNR Fisheries Chief Mike Conlin confirmed that he and the Northern Illinois Anglers Association will continue to work on getting the Fish Fund into any future version of a “DNR Sustainability” bill that may come forward prior to the fall veto session, or a special summer session if one is called.

DNR has not supported the notion of a Fish Management Fund, which would guarantee money intended for fisheries would go to fisheries, instead of being made available for general use.

Meanwhile, SB 1566 also would have helped state parks, which are in serious danger of being closed. The proposal would have raised license plate fees for all motorists by $2, with the money being used to keep parks open and maintain those in neglect.

Sponsor Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, had said plans attached to SB 1566 could have provided DNR with $15 million in its first year and $32 million in later years.

Mautino pointed out that DNR will exhaust its reserves if it is faced with another year of underfunding.

“Next budget year – There’s a cliff there,” Mautino said.
In mid-June, DNR Director Marc Miller said closing state parks is “a reality,” repeating something he said prior to the start of the most recent legislative session: “everything is on the table.”

“We’ve had unprecedented budget issues, and we have to live within these times,” Miller told the Chicago Tribune.

DNR’s budget was slashed by roughly $13 million for the coming fiscal year, and the agency faces $750 million worth of maintenance projects at parks.

DNR, which manages more than 300 parks, forests and wildlife areas in the state, has a budget of $45.4 million, down from the more than $106 million it had 10 years ago.

Mautino, who has become a champion for DNR’s cause, said he was confident the bill had votes to pass, but when the bill was called during the wee hours of May 31, it fell short by three votes.

Representatives from nearly 50 groups, including hunters, anglers, kayakers, cyclists and others, got together to brainstorm ways to keep DNR operating.

Fees were designed to be assigned to organizations representing each group. For example, a “paddle pass” would be paid at the time of a canoe or kayak purchase and those fees would be used only for boat ramp programs. Cyclists would pay a fee, also, and those funds would be dedicated to repairing bike trails.

The Fish Management Fund would work in a similar manner, with dedicated dollars put into the fund to be used only for fishing-related projects, such as the Urban Fishing Program and fisheries work.

Those dedicated funds would not be available at the end of the year to pay for other state expenses.

In other words, the funds could not be “swept,” as has happened in the past.

If SB 1566 is approved this summer or fall, associated fees still could be effective beginning Jan. 1. 

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