An Update on the New Illinois Budget and What it Means for Soil and Water Conservation

Guest Post: We’re pleased that the new Illinois budget provides much-needed funding for Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts, which have played a vital role in helping farmers implement conservation practices that protect our soil and keep our waters clean. SWCD funding had decreased by nearly 70% since 2008, but the new budget fully funds this crucial conservation resource. Jen Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council gives us the full scoop in her post below. 

As of June 20, 2017, the state of Illinois has not passed a budget for three years and has not operated under a real budget for nearly 2 years.  This budget impasse and other budget proposals have had a devastating impact on nutrient loss reduction work, particularly on soil and water conservation districts.  The following is an analysis of the budget impasse and its impact.

The budget impasse has been characterized by sharp cuts to Soil and Water Conservation Districts and also to the Office of Land and Water Resources at the Illinois Department of Agriculture.  Both of these programs are critical infrastructure components of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.  In FY16, the Governor proposed zeroing out these programs.

In March of 2017, the Governor introduced his proposed budget to the Illinois General Assembly.  This budget was not fully balanced and included $4.6 billion in revenue from unspecified reforms and cuts.

The March 2017 Governor’s proposed budget maintained the FY17 funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Information in the FY18 budget shows the severe impact that the FY16 cuts and impasse had on this work, cutting conservation practices adopted by clients in half. Specifically, in FY15, 311 clients implemented soil and water conservation practices, but in FY 16, only 176 did.  FY17 predictions include 352 clients and the goal for FY 18 is 367. SWCDs received only $408,000 in FY 2016.  In FY2017, the stop gap budget provided full funding at 5.6 million.

The Office of Land and Water Resources has also seen sharp cuts in its operations and productivity. 574 projects were installed in FY14, but only 183 projects are budgeted for installation in FY18.  This office was zeroed out in the Governor’s proposed FY16 budget, but that bottoming out of the budget never occurred.

In May of 2017, the Senate Democrats introduced portions of a budget. SB6, which ultimately included the budget passed by the Senate Democrats, included full funding of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts and also the Office of Water Resources at the Illinois Department of Agriculture.  However, SB42, a bill which implements the funding of the budget, included language that would have swept $14 million from the Partners for Conservation Fund, which funds the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, rendering the full funding a moot point. SB42 did not pass and ultimately, the budget implementation bill that did pass did not include sweeps of this fund and the soil and water programs that we care about were protected.

In mid-June of 2017, Senator Bill Brady, on behalf of the Governor, introduced SB2214 and SB2217.  SB2214 is the budget and SB2217 is the budget implementation bill.  Again, while SB2214 provided full funding to SWCDs, SB2217 gave the broad ability to sweep funding, putting these programs at risk.  SB2214 also included some minimal
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program funding for a single project. CREP funding has not been accessed by Illinois in years.

The legislature did finally pass a budget in July of 2017.  These bills include SB6 – a spending plan, SB9 – new revenue, and SB 42 – the budget implementation bill.  These were amended in the House, but are similar to bills that passed the Senate in May. Highlights include:

  • A full $13.5 million for Soil and Water Conservation Districts operations and grants.
  • Full funding of U of I extension and Cook County extension.
  • Full funding of the Office of Land and Water Resources at the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Unfortunately, direct funding to the nutrient loss reduction strategy has not been included in the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. This programming is included in the Bureau of Water budget, but not as a specific program.  In addition, there is concern that the Governor will not allow the SWCD grants to be allocated, despite the appropriation.

We will continue to work to make sure programs related to nutrient loss reduction and sustainable agriculture are fully funded.

Jen Walling

Executive Director
Illinois Environmental Council
Main Headquarters: 230 Broadway, Suite 150, Springfield, IL  62701
Chicago Office: 70 E. Lake, Suite 1500, Chicago, IL 60601
Cell:  217-493-9455