Monday, October 24, 2016

Election Day 2016 could put Illinois DNR in the Crosshairs of a Budget Issue

Election Day 2016 could put Illinois DNR in the Crosshairs of a Budget Issue

The November 8th ballot will contain more than voting for President and other state and local officials. You will also have the opportunity to vote for a constitutional amendment. The Safe Roads Amendment would require that all transportation-related revenue (gas tax, license plate fees, registration fees etc) be used solely for roads, streets, highways, bridges and mass transit.

Here is what the amendment will look like on the November Ballot:
“The proposed amendment adds a new section to the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution. The proposed amendment provides that no moneys derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes, relating to registration, titles, operation, or use of vehicles or public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, or airports, or motor fuels, including bond proceeds, shall be expended for other than costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes, including the State or local share to match federal aid highway funds. You are asked to decide whether the proposed amendment should become part of the Illinois Constitution.”
When you take this at face value it seems like a good idea, right? Money from transportation revenue sources should go to Transportation related issues within the State of Illinois. However, is a constitutional amendment really warranted for this situation. Lawmakers already have the ability to prevent fund sweeps from happening, but instead legislation has been written to do the opposite.

For example, SB 1566 of the 97th General Assembly increased the Motor Vehicle Registration fee from $99 annually to $101 a year. The extra two dollars is currently going to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. This fee increase among others has brought in about $30 million a year to the DNR. This money helps an already down-and-out agency by increasing staff and fixing crumbling infrastructure in our state parks.

The following are among the many special plates and their funds that will be affected by this amendment:

*Environmental Plate ($29 Annual Renewal)
The Environmental plates feature our state bird, the cardinal, and our state prairie grass, big bluestem. The sale of each set of plates generates funds for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ State Park Trust Fund, which is used to maintain and preserve state parks throughout Illinois.

*Ducks Unlimited ($27 Annual Renewal)

The Ducks Unlimited plates offer Illinois motorists the opportunity to support the conservation efforts of Ducks Unlimited in this state. Proceeds from the sale of these plates will go into the Ducks Unlimited Fund to be used for grants to Ducks Unlimited, Inc. The grants will help fund wetland protection, enhancement and restoration projects in Illinois; education and outreach efforts for the media, volunteers and the general public; and administration of the wetland conservation projects and education program.

*Sporting Series ($27 Annual Renewal)

The state of Illinois offers abundant opportunities for avid sportsmen and women. Our parks and wildlife areas are teaming with deer and upland game, and our waterways are home to a wide variety of waterfowl and gaming fish. Enthusiasts the opportunity to display their affection for the outdoors and sporting activities through the purchase of Sporting Series License Plates. By purchasing a set of these plates you will contribute to the Illinois Habitat Fund for the protection, maintenance and acquisition of quality wildlife habitats in Illinois.
* information obtained from Secretary of State website

Illinois is in budget crisis; education, social services and many other programs are in dire straights. Understand that this sets a precedent for many other “lock-box” type amendments. The reality is that money raised from various programs/fees benefits other people and organizations across the state.

The real question becomes how much does this impact the DNR? Tim Schweitzer, DNR Spokesperson stated the following when asked about this amendment:
“When election results are known for the Lockbox Amendment, staff will do any evaluations necessary to determine its potential impacts on IDNR’s budget.”
It seems a little troublesome that the DNR is going to wait to see whether this will have an impact on their budget. And still some might say that state parks and the roads that the DNR maintains could be considered transportation related, however we do not know for certain and do we want to take that type of risk. Passing a constitutional amendment rather than legislation may not be the way to go for this. Rewriting legislation is simply done by writing more legislation, but trying to fix a constitutional amendment is difficult.

Be cautious before voting for this amendment and look at the overall picture. Voting “Yes” for this might have a bigger impact on hunting,fishing,conservation and the outdoors in this state. Could we see a state park entrance fee? Hunting/Fishing Licenses go up? Some state parks close? We just don’t know at this point and do you want to just wait and see.

If you would like more information on this amendment you can review it further at

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