Soon, Illinois license plate will be a motorist’s ticket into the Illinois State Parks system.
But park visitors hoping to see repairs and renovations at the parks will need to be patient as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) begins to receive funds from a bill that includes a $2 surcharge on license plate renewals, the Peoria Journal Star reported.
The Illinois Senate passed SB 1566 Nov. 28. The bill allows DNR charge fees for some services, such as endangered species consultation, and to receive a $2 surcharge on a $99 license plate renewal to help pay for upkeep at state parks.
Eventually, as much as $32 million per year could be realized from license plate renewals and new fees.
When that money starts to come in, said DNR director Marc Miller, crumbling roads, sagging roofs and aging sewage treatment plants at the parks will be the top priority.
However, it will take awhile for enough money to start making a difference to roll in.
“We will probably need nine to 12 months to see the revenue from these very different revenue streams,” Miller said.
And according to DNR, Illinois State Parks face a backlog of $750 million in deferred capital projects and maintenance.
Last spring, DNR was looking at a budget shortfall of $22 million by the end of this fiscal year June 30, but Miller said a combination of budget cutting and other factors combined with the new revenue have left the agency in a better position.
“We all have to understand there is a lot of hard work that needs to be done, and this will not be a panacea,” he said.
Illinois drivers would have to pay an additional $2 for their license plate stickers — but not for their RVs — to help the state take better care of its parks beginning next year under legislation the Senate sent to the governor on Wednesday (Nov. 28).
Gov. Pat Quinn supported the fee hike as a way to bring in more money to fix crumbling roads, leaky roofs, trails and broken toilets in a state park system that has seen its budget cut heavily over the past dozen years, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The extra $2 would push the annual sticker cost for a regular license plate to $101. The fee increase applies to plates for motorcycles, pickup trucks, vans and cars. It wouldn’t be imposed on commercial or recreational vehicles, however.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, and Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, passed the Senate overwhelmingly Wednesday. The House approved it last spring.
The Department of Natural Resources estimated it needs as much as $750 million for repairs. The fee increase is expected to raise more than $20 million a year. The agency will be allowed to put half that money into construction projects and the rest into staff and programs.
Agency Director Marc Miller called the action a “victory for conservation and the environment in Illinois,” saying the move allows Illinoisans to use parks without having to pay entrance fees.
The agency’s staffing level has dropped from about 2,600 employees in 2002 to just under 1,200 today, Miller said. The annual budget has dropped from $107 million to $48 million. Miller said the agency also is looking at charging fees for out-of-state visitors to the parks.
Secretary of State Jesse White opposed the bill because he wants money for license plates to be used to support drivers and roads, spokesman Henry Haupt said. One hitch: The law would take effect Jan. 1 if Quinn signs it. But renewal notices already have been sent for annual fees due Jan. 14, and the soonest White’s office expects to be able to implement the $2 fee hike would be for March renewals, Haupt said.
Visitors to Illinois state parks would face admission fees for the first time under legislation the Illinois House passed Monday (March 27).
As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the bill would allow the state to charge annual fees for vehicle stickers for park entry, as well as daily admission fees for pedestrians or drivers without annual passes.
Proponents of the measure, sponsored by Rep. JoAnn Osmond, R-Antioch, said the money is needed for upkeep at parks, where funds personnel and care have been cut back heavily in recent years.
“I know it’s very difficult for the members of this assembly to vote for a fee, but please keep in mind that this is a user fee, and the people that pay this fee will be the people that love nature, love to go to the parks,” Osmond said.
The revenue would be dedicated to the state parks fund or the fish and wildlife fund, according to the legislation.
The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) currently does not charge an entry fee to state-owned or -operated land except for Wildlife Prairie State Park near Peoria and sites with beaches, where the charge is $1 a day per person for beach use, according to the agency website.
The House sent the bill to the Senate on an 81-29 vote.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn said the governor backs the proposal.