New Fee will Rescue Aging Illinois State Parks
When Illinois license branches reopened today (Jan. 2), motorists will now have to pay an extra $2 to renew their license plates, a surcharge that will push state plate fees from $99 to $101 per year.
The surcharge was included in a state Senate-sponsored bill during the fall veto session, and was designed to generate new revenue for the maintenance and upkeep of states parks, the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press reported.
"The new law will eventually lead to $32 million a year in new revenue for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources through the creation of entrance fees, use fees, shipping fees, consultant fees and increases to current fees – including a $2 surcharge on license plate renewals," said State Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon. "A number of lawmakers voted against the legislation, arguing that the measure places the burden of financing (the Illinois Department of Natural Resources) on the public, and noting there is no language to prevent future fund sweeps."
The license plate surcharge is expected to generate between $18 million and $20 million annually. Combined with other specific user fees, the total new funding for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is projected to generate $30 million and $33 million per year.
Officials with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources say they money will be used solely in state parks in two ways: Hiring more staff to maintain parks and to fix aging infrastructure.
"The Illinois State Parks System faces over $750 million in deferred maintenance and capital needs, including deteriorating bath and shower facilities, outdated and dangerous electrical systems, concerns with potable water systems because of well failures and testing issues, failure of sewage treatment facilities and repair work on roads, bridges and trails damaged by storms," said a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
By statute, half of the $2 surcharge will be used for the agency's normal operations, with the other half to be used for construction and maintenance.
Officials say it will take nine months to a year before the agency will be able to capture and use the new revenue.
A plan is also in the works to collect an entrance fee from out-of-state visitors that use Illinois state parks. Currently, out-of-state visitors who are guests at state lodges are not charged an entry fee to the park.
Funding for Illinois parks has fallen since 2002. General revenue funding in 2002 was $100 million. The total has dropped to $50 million. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources also has 1,400 employees fewer than it did 10 years ago.
It is estimated that there is a $750 million backlog of maintenance projects in Illinois parks. New revenue will be prioritized to address public safety issues first.