if only we could see what the budget future holds…..
As the final days of Illinois’ FY16 count down with no real end to the budget impasse (although I think crisis is better word these days) in clear sight, it’s time to take a look at some of the ramifications of this mess as the relate to the outdoors.
First up – refunds. How many folks who have refund coming from IDNR for a money spent on unawarded tags have actually gotten one? So far, no one that I have talked to has received theirs, and when I called to inquire about my own, I was simply told that no refunds can be issued until a budget is passed. I can only assume that this because there is no court order, no consent decree, no appropriation for the release of these funds. This leads to another question.
What if there is no budget passed by July 1? Will these refunds be dumped along with so many other unpaid bills into the big pile that will essentially go unpaid period? While I couldn’t get that much of an answer regarding the permit fees that haven’t been refunded, that’s exactly what will happen to many of the vendors for the state of Illinois. Including vendors for IDNR sites, services, and equipment.
From Comptroller Leslie Munger “Compounding Illinois’ challenges, businesses that have provided goods and services to the state in good faith in the current fiscal year will continue to go unpaid without legislation in Springfield. Typically, unpaid vendors would go before the Court of Claims to compel payment, but without an appropriation that Court is not an option. As a result, the state faces the possibility of a wave of costly lawsuits.”
We have already seen that some power companies and fuel vendors just can’t continue to keep it flowing. Fuel supply deliveries that were stopped and electric bills that went unpaid caused some brief closures at places such as Horseshoe Lake State Park, Newton, and Carlyle. We also saw a reduction in the number of waterfowl sites that were able to be pumped and filled last fall as a result of a stoppage of the fuel supplies that were needed to “run the pumps”. Duck blind draws were held using generators after power was shut off.
How long will the vendors who have generously extended credit in order to keep some IDNR sites powered, fueled and up and running continue to do so after July 1 when they see that they may have to seek payment through a lengthy and costly court exercise?
The next problem that could be facing us as sportsmen and women is the loss of Federal Pittman Robertson and Dingell Johnson dollars. (why yes we have been down this road before haven’t we?)
Currently, there is no appropriation to address these pass through funds so they are just sitting over there in a corner somewhere. If we had budget, it’s a pretty straightforward and easy process.
Here’s how it works; the IDNR is billed for expenditures on projects approved for federal grant-in-aid funding, then in turn IDNR bills the federal agency that has allocated the funds. Those funds are then considered reimbursed – so it’s just a case of the funds “passing through” the system. Unfortunately, that particular river has been dammed. The pass has been blocked. IDNR is not currently authorized to reimburse these projects,….wait for it… yep, you guessed it - due to the budget impasse.
The problem with this particular situation surrounding the federal dollars is that there exists a “use it or lose it” system with these funds. If the state doesn’t authorize of these funds soon, they will be forfeited. You heard me – FORFEITED - poof - gone. Forfeited at a time when IDNR can ill afford to give up a single penny. We aren’t talking chump change either - in 2015, the federal government allocated more than $20 million to Illinois from funds collected under the two Acts.
This may well be one of the most serious injustices that we as outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, and anglers have seen in Illinois in some time. We all paid into those funds with the purchase of various items that have the federal excise tax. Our IDNR, the sportsmen and women of Illinois, and the designated projects that use these funds deserve better treatment by our state government.
Here’s a great infographic / fact sheet from our friends at NSSF regarding the Pittman Robertson funds.
There is a short term solution for the pass through funds at least, and honestly, it could also be used to process and pay the refunds as well. The general assembly could issue a spending authority to the IDNR for these specific accounts, regardless of budget status. This could be done without the passing of the overall state budget. Let’s face it - similar spending bills have already been issued by the general assembly for other purposes during the impasse. This is one that likely could be done in a very bipartisan way and could even perhaps be viewed as an action that shows that our legislators can work together across the aisle on matters they find important.
Ah, there’s the rub – do our legislators find IDNR and these issues important enough to even try to attempt such a measure before July 1?
At this point it’s a crap shoot whether they will even be called back into session before July 1st.
If you feel strongly that we cannot afford to risk forfeiture of these federal pass through funds, call your legislator today and firmly explain why this is foolish and short sighted to allow these funds to be forfeited, and why it is affront to sportsmen throughout the state to make them wait until a budget has been passed to be refunded money they are owed.
Just my own opinion – but none of this – not a single bit, bodes well for our upcoming hunting season.
Tell us what you think Heartland community – are we looking at an even more grim year in the outdoors than the 2015-16 season?