Marc Miller, Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources sent this message recently.
This is a message of concern and need. If you enjoy the outdoors, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, you have to get involved. Here is what Director Miller wrote...
To start, I would like to say “thank you” to the sportsmen and women who support conservation by carrying on our outdoor heritage. Your purchases, licenses and fees have enabled great work over the past 75 years. There is more work to do, but DNR is going to need a different kind of support in the months and years ahead.
As sportsmen and women, your voice is needed now to find solutions to the problems we face, and at the end of this email we will ask you to contact your legislators.
Since 2009, we have been laying out a vision for a healthy agency focused on its mission, and it started with a new Conservation Congress. DNR constituents worked on three self-sustaining areas:
· Getting new people outdoors – youth, women, families, and underserved communities;
· Improving recreational access to the outdoors for everyone; and,
· Creating sustainable revenues to repair the agency, and broaden its base of support.
If we can accomplish these three objectives, we can protect our right to hunt and fish, and ensure that we can pass along our outdoor heritage to future generations.
DNR also began working on repairing some of the problems of neglect, misperceptions about the agency, and worked on responsible, professional management. Our responsible, prudent, and realistic approaches to the budget challenges have been acknowledged as a model for other agencies to follow and a way to move forward.
We started working on the next budget as soon as the current budget year began in July, and initiated a campaign for a sustainable agency. In September, we started meeting with conservation and outdoor groups, and began publicly presenting the dire budget situation: by taking severe general revenue fund cuts over 12 years, we shifted to Other State Funds and exhausted the funds and our flexibility to sustain further cuts.
Since November, State Representative Frank Mautino has been leading a collaborative effort with DNR constituents to look at unnecessary and unfunded mandates and create new sources of revenue for the agency. This has been a bi-partisan effort and revenue bills in the legislature could lead DNR out of the troubles of the past 12 years.
But here is the candid reality… decades-old problems with underfunding the pension obligations and the growing backlog of Medicaid bills threaten every aspect of state government programs, including DNR.
The state Medicaid system is on the brink of collapse with a $2.7 billion debt, and independent estimates show the problem could grow to $21 billion by 2017 without a course correction. The unfunded liability for pensions is $83 billion dollars. It is important to note that Illinois only takes in roughly $33 billion a year in taxes.
Currently, Medicaid and pensions account for 39% of state general revenue spending, which puts a squeeze on the rest of the state budget. DNR has been, and will continue to be squeezed out of the budget. To better understand these issues, I encourage you to read editorials from the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, and Herald-Whig.
A lot of work has been done to position DNR to become a sustainable agency, to be responsible with its funds, and to be healthy again, but this cannot be accomplished when larger issues such as these threaten the security of so many citizens.
We must fix these problems together. Sportsmen speaking with their voices, along with other DNR constituents. We must fix this spring all three problems - Medicaid, pensions and DNR sustainability. This is the responsible thing to do.
One of the needed actions is to make a personal connection with your public officials and let them know that our outdoor heritage, conservation, and DNR are important to our citizens. There are over 1.3 million citizens that participate each year in our outdoor traditions.
Please use your voice to say that we want responsible actions taken to pass something better on to future generations. Please ask them to act this spring to fix the DNR budget, Medicaid and pensions.
We need to fix these problems together.
Yours in conservation,