May 29, 2007

Momentum Building For New Conservation Plan In State Budget

As Illinois lawmakers work toward a new state budget, a growing number of city, suburban, and downstate legislators are calling for new funding to protect open space as part of the final spending plan.

The proposed "iSPACE" plan would invest $100 million per year in new places across the state to hunt, hike, play, bike, relax, absorb floodwater, purify drinking water, and pass our natural heritage along to future generations. The House resolution supporting the plan, HJR 55, has 70 cosponsors, and today House leaders suspended the rules to allow a hearing on HJR 55 Wednesday morning in the House State Government Committee.

An identical resolution in the Senate cleared the Senate State Government & Veterans' Affairs Committee unanimously last week, and is on the calendar for a Senate floor vote Wednesday.

Both resolutions call for inclusion of funding to establish a capital program to protect Illinois’ natural areas and open spaces for future generations. The Illinois Special Places Acquisition, Conservation and Enhancement Program (iSPACE) would invest in Illinois’ future by providing $100 million annually in a capital spending plan for conservation programs.

iSPACE would designate $100 million annually for:

(1) a new statewide land acquisition program to protect the State's most precious natural resources and provide recreational opportunities, including matching grants to local governments;

(2) implementation of the Partners for Conservation Program (formerly Conservation 2000) through land acquisition and management grants; and

(3) implementation of the Hunting Heritage Protection Act by increasing the amount of land acreage available for hunting opportunities in Illinois.

Sportsmen and environmentalists are working closely together to build support for iSPACE. This has helped build a legislative coaltion of downstaters, suburbanites, and urban legislators that crosses party lines.

As State Rep. Harry Osterman (D-Chicago), lead sponsor of HJR55, says:

“Protecting parks and natural areas for future generations is a critical function of state government, and in recent years we have not had the resources to protect the special places of our state from development. Just as we need to shore up our transportation systems and provide quality schools, we have to protect places for recreation, relaxation, and wildlife.”

Illinois has been without significant open space funding since 2002, and as a result many special places in our state have been lost forever to development. Legislative leadrs have a chance with this budget to catch up on our obligations to the future by including the iSPACE proposal in any capital budget.

No comments: