Lawmakers trying to restore cuts, save state parks

Lawmakers trying to restore cuts, save state parks

DANVILLE – Legislators have responded to Gov. Rod Blagjevich's $1.4 billion in budget cuts with bills that could stop the closure of 13 historic sites and 11 state parks, a backup plan if the recently passed funds sweep bill doesn't get final approval.

Meanwhile, supporters of the state parks and historic sites plan to continue their efforts as well.

"I'm not sure what (Blagojevich) was hoping to accomplish with these sort of Draconian cuts, when he could have made small cuts across the board and caused a sort of area ripple instead of a number of dramatic moves affecting the lives of thousands of people," said Steve Brown, a spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The House passed legislation Wednesday that collects unused money from hundreds of special-use funds, such as dentists' licenses, and shifts it into the general fund, to restore the cuts.

The $220 million bill – SB 790 – was approved Wednesday by a 97-16 vote. It would save the parks and sites slated for closure by restoring funding to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and to the Department of Natural Resources.

State representatives Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana; Bill Black, R-Danville; Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet; and Shane Cultra, R-Onarga all voted for the bill.

The bill still requires approval of both the Senate and the governor.

News of the House vote prompted e-mails and phone calls to Kickapoo State Park supporter Aaron Geiger, who administers a Facebook page – Save Kickapoo State Park – to rally support for Kickapoo. The group's members are among dozens who have circulated petitions online and in Champaign and Vermilion counties.

Geiger said, though, that the group's activities will continue.

"I absolutely think pressure should be kept up until there is a viable solution, until there is a satisfactory solution," Geiger said. "Sometimes when people let up, things tend to get overlooked."

For some legislators, the fund sweeps bill was not an ideal solution to the problem.

Black said he needed a guarantee before supporting such a move, one he calls "bad public policy."

"But when you're up against no treatment for drug and substance abuse, the layoff of (Department of Child and Family Services) workers and short-staffed in prisons ... that compromises safety," Black said.

"I want to know we're going to open the parks, I want to know we're going to staff drug and alcohol abuse," he said.

Black filed legislation – HB 6707, now in the House Rules Committee – on Wednesday to turn over Kickapoo State Park to the Vermilion County Conservation District under a two-year lease plan. The district would pay $1 to the state for the lease and in return, the state would pay the district money equal to what was spent to operate the park in fiscal 2007, under Black's proposed legislation.

Black's legislation also would create a Kickapoo State Park Trust Fund that would use public donations to operate the park.

"You always have to have in the current Legislature a backup to a backup to a backup," Black said.

Black co-sponsored a third piece of legislation that would restore funding to both the Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

State Rep. Donald Moffitt (R-Galesburg) has sponsored a bill – HB 6693, now in the House Rules Committee – to restore $2.7 million to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency upon arrival.

"What we did yesterday does the same thing. It restores funding same as mine," Moffitt said. "I considered yesterday a very good day. Do I like fund sweeps? No, but I dislike closing historic sites even more."

Moffitt's bill will remain active, but approval of the funds sweep bill would render it moot.