Blago was stupid for making Quinn his second in command and even dumber the way he did buisness in the State office. Now Quinn is a stupid fuck who can not get his head out of his ass.
One of Gov. Pat Quinn'sfirst acts after assuming office in 2009 was reopening seven state parks that predecessor Rod Blagojevich shuttered in a cost-saving move.
At the time, Quinn argued that closing the parks cost Illinois more in lost tourism dollars than the move saved.
But just three years later, ongoing money problems may lead to new state park closures just as the summer tourist season is heating up.
The problem centers on the budget for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which manages the state's more than 300 parks, forests and wildlife areas. As other priorities such as health care and pension costs took up more and more of the state budget, less money was left for other services, including conservation and recreation.
A large chunk of the department's budget comes from state general revenue. It totaled $106 million in 2002 but is now just $45.4 million in the spending plan that lawmakers sent Quinn last month. Agency officials are re-evaluating their business model with the idea of finding a dedicated funding stream to pay for parks, trails and other services.
Earlier this year, the agency backed a plan to charge park visitors $7 for a single-day pass or $25 for a yearly pass. But that idea was set aside when supporters realized it would be difficult to enforce in parks with multiple entrances and dwindling manpower.
A new proposal emerged that would raise license plate fees for all motorists by $2, with the money being used to keep parks open and repair those suffering from years of neglect. The proposal narrowly passed the House last month but failed to get enough support in the Senate during the waning hours of the spring session.
Sponsoring Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, had said the measure would raise $15 million in its first year and $32 million in later years for the DNR.
Without that money, agency director Marc Miller said he's now faced with the possibility of closing parks, cutting operating hours and laying off workers.
It's unclear what locations might have to close or when cutbacks will be put in place, but Miller said "everything is on the table."
"I know personally that Gov. Quinn is committed to do better for the environment and conservation, but it's been a very difficult time these last three years," Miller said. "We've had unprecedented budget issues ... and we have to live within these times."
But Miller said his agency is also at a crossroads and can no longer continue to limp along. Either fees must be raised so the agency can support itself, or there won't be much left for visitors to enjoy, Miller said.
In addition to budget cuts, the agency faces $750 million worth of deferred maintenance projects. Sewers, roads and other park infrastructure have been left to crumble because there's no money for upkeep.
Last year, the Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park in Zion had to close after summer storms ripped through the area and knocked down or damaged hundreds of trees. The department couldn't afford to hire a contractor to quickly clean up the safety hazards, so workers slowly chipped away at the job and the park reopened about nine months later, having lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in camping revenue, Miller said.
The agency ran into other problems during southern Illinois floods last year. Conservation police were called in to help rescue those trapped by the rising water but had to borrow boats from other agencies because the ones they normally use were in such bad shape.
This year, Miller said, he is concerned that a wave of employee retirements may make it difficult to keep sites staffed and open. The agency has been under a hiring freeze for the last decade, and staff levels have dropped from 2,400 employees in 2002 to about 1,100 employees now. But that number may drop even lower, as 80 workers have already expressed interest in retiring this year amid ongoing talks about reforming the state's public employee pension system. More than 200 others are also eligible for retirement this year.
That means the agency may be forced to pay out anywhere from $3 million to $5 million in retirement benefits, an expense that wasn't factored into the latest spending plan, said Mautino, who has spent the last year working on the funding issues. As a result, even more cuts may have to be made, Mautino said.
"It's a cash flow issue," said Mautino, who warned the prospects are even worse in 2013 when the agency will likely be facing a $22 million shortfall if nothing is done.
While most of the focus has been on the damage to state parks, Mautino noted the agency is responsible for billions of dollars that flow to the state's economy through tourism and other industries that it oversees, including coal, gas and mining. Without the proper resources, Mautino said the state is losing out on jobs because there aren't enough people to process mining permits in a timely manner.
Mautino said raising fees would ease that pressure. On top of the increase in license plate fees, his proposal would also impose a new $15 annual fee for ATV users and raise other fees related to coal mining, oil and gas drilling, and commercial fishing. Out-of-state visitors would also be charged entrance fees to state parks, and new admission fees would be imposed for the Illinois State Museum in Springfield.
Quinn has vowed to sign the bill to raise license plate fees and the other agency fees if it makes it to his desk, and his budget director has promised Mautino that the funds would not be used to pay other expenses.
"We certainly support" the proposal, Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said. "Our state treasures are very important to Gov. Quinn and the people of Illinois, and he has a long history of standing up for our state parks and natural resources."
Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said she'd like to take another shot at passing the fee increase legislation over the summer.
But Hutchinson acknowledged it might be overshadowed by efforts to strike a deal with Quinn on how to reform the pension systems, which are underfunded by more than $80 billion. If there is no time to take up the funding issue over the summer, Hutchinson said she would revisit it during the fall veto session.
"I understand that some people don't think that we should raise fees on anything right now, but at some point we have to have a conversation about what it costs to invest in the infrastructure of this state," Hutchinson said. "Why would we not take every opportunity we can to give the department a way to be sustainable on its own?"
In the meantime, Miller is faced with some tough decisions.
"We are determined to do our best to keep everything open, but it's going to be quite challenging as we go through the summer without that funding."