Friday, January 27th, 2023
Friday, January 27th, 2023

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Rauner’s state budget includes DNR cut

Springfield — DNR stands to lose $6 million under Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget proposal – a cut that could cause the agency to consider pulling back on some programs.

To be sure, the man recently selected to run the agency will be doing so under tighter fiscal constraints than in recent history.

Wayne Rosenthal was confirmed by the Senate as the next DNR director in mid-February. The former state representative will earn $133,273 in a job that will certainly require some unpopular decisions.

The FY 2016 budget proposal includes $39 million in general funds, compared to the $45.1 million in the FY 2015 budget. A projected $178 million in other state funds and $25.6 million in federal funds would put the entire proposed budget at $242.8 million, down from the $258 million enacted for FY 2015.

Among programs that would see decreased appropriations under Rauner’s budget plan is Wildlife Conservation, which is to get  $35 million – $5 million less than last year. State Park Management would also see a roughly $5 million cut, from $89.2 million in FY 2015 to $83.5 million in FY 2016.

The proposal also calls for relatively flat staffing levels across the agency, and a decrease in appropriations for the Law Enforcement division.

On the other hand, DNR’s Oil and Gas Regulation Division would receive a $5 million bump in appropriations, from $36.1 million this year to $41.4 million next year. Forestry Management would also be a winner, getting $6.3 million after receiving only $3 million in the current budget.

As for specific program funding, DNR’s Chronic Wasting Disease Programs would see a slight bump, from $1.5 million to $1.7 million. Sportsmen Against Hunger would remain flat at $120,000, as would the Urban Fishing Program at $285,000.

FY 2016 begins July 1.

“The biggest problem with DNR is we already have taken a lot of cuts over the last 10-12 years,” Rosenthal said. “Our biggest concern is that we keep our staffing where it needs to be. We can be efficient, but we need manpower.”

Indeed, DNR has battled budget cuts for more than a decade, but is not the only state agency being targeted. In his first Budget Address to the Illinois General Assembly, Rauner decried the “sleight of hand budgeting” and “financial recklessness” that created the state’s checkbook. Illinois has a more than $6 billion budget deficit and $111 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. 

The FY 2016 budget calls for a total DNR headcount of 1,261. The FY 2015 budget had a headcount line of 1,294.

One big concern up and down Illinois are land and park projects slated to receive state funding. Many are pointing to the announcement by former Gov. Pat Quinn that promised $26 million in state grants for 75 local park projects. When Rauner took over as governor one week later, he issued an executive order freezing a majority of discretionary spending, including the awarding of the DNR park grants, until his office could review spending.

It is unclear when that review will be completed.

According to DNR, most of the FY 2015 grant money comes from the 35 percent cut of Illinois’ real estate transfer tax proceeds that the grant program receives annually.  Another $2 million of the roughly $26 million total comes from a federal land and water conservation program.

As the budget battle heats up, Rosenthal is counting on the staff.

“We have a great staff of professionals here at DNR, and I look forward to working with them to serve our constituents and help turn our state around,” he said after being confirmed by the Senate. Rauner visited DNR headquarters in February, meeting with employees and discussing the fiscal challenges facing the state.

“I am grateful to the governor for coming in person to talk with our staff,” Rosenthal said.

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