Heartland Outdoors: Through the Lens

Fiddling While DNR Burns

Monday, March 06

Over the course of the last several weeks I have been slogging through a ton of paperwork related to the possible loss of Illinois’ share of the Pittman Robertson and Dingell Johnson funds.  It’s not something that many realized could be a possible unintended consequence of the budget impasse.

I first wrote about the issue on this blog post. http://heartlandoutdoors.com/gretchen/story/lesser_known_consequences_of_the_budget_impasse/

Here we are, -  a full nine months down the road from that original blog post, and the situation remains unchanged. Unchanged to the point some monies have been already been placed in “reversion” status. That means that essentially those dollars go back to the feds for redistribution among the states – states plural.

As is common with many federal grants, there’s a use it or lose it rule of some sort. Per communication from USFWS, “The IL DNR has been given limited budget/spending authority by the State which prevents them from providing their required match for each grant per Federal regulations.
USFWS explained the reversion process as follows:
A safety margin is established at the beginning of each Federal Fiscal Year which is equivalent to the total current dollars obligated in the prior Federal Fiscal Year.  When a grant project is completed and if there are unused federal funds from that grant, the unused amount is deobligated.  The deobligated amount is filtered through each years’ safety margin beginning with the Federal fiscal year the funding was originally obligated.  This amount is also deducted from each year’s safety margin, reducing the safety margin by that amount.  If the State has an adequate safety margin, 100% of the funding is returned to the State for use in new projects.  If the State was not able to obligate enough Federal dollars in any given year, then the unused funding will revert (returned to Washington Headquarters to be re-allocated across all states in the next Federal fiscal year).

Last week I had a rather long and drawn out piece prepared, I had worked with several conservation organizations to contact their legislators and request that this pass-through spending be authorized.  It could be done as a separate spending/appropriation bill and would allow approximately 35 approved projects to move forward. It could prevent the possible closure of the Wildlife Research Lab at SIU. It could keep multiple research, fisheries, and land management projects going.

Then, I was heartened to see during last weeks “Grand Bargain “debates that these dollars were specifically addressed in SB0006; amendment 3. The bill passed – so I began to breathe a sigh of relief for about a nanosecond until I realized that this specific appropriation bill for the remainder of FY2017 (sort of another stop gap spending plan since the other expired on December 31, 2016) was tied to the Grand Bargain package and by the looks of things as the days unfolded, we are no closer than ever to having appropriations for these funds.

I must wonder if we shouldn’t go back to pressuring legislators to issue a spending authority for these pass-through funds – separate from the Grand Bargain package.
IL cannot afford to just throw away an average of 23mil in federal funding each year. DNR has been constantly decimated for the last 10 plus years and this sure doesn’t help that situation any.

These dollars may seem like chump change when we consider the bill back log as of Friday, was $12,030,034,006.20. But seriously, it’s just fiscal madness to let this money end up being reverted or lost because our legislators can’t come to terms on a budget or spending plan.

I for one am not willing to let excise taxes I paid to the federal government, specifically earmarked for the Pittman Robertson and Dingell Johnson Funds, specifically allocated to our DNR by the USFWS be tossed aside and lost in this grand mess we have found ourselves in.

Personally, I think it’s time for the sportsmen and women of IL to begin calling on legislators and asking to have a separate standalone spending authority for these funds issued.  Unless DNR spends the money, then bills the USFWS program for those expenditures – there exists a very real possibility those dollars will be lost.

I don’t know about the rest of the Heartland community, but I say it’s time to stop the madness when it comes to our DNR’s funding. 

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