Environmental Funding and the State Budget

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New State Budget will determine direction for key environmental, conservation, and transportation programs over next two years!

Update: April 25th – We’re heading into the final week of the legislative session, and things are fast changing!  The General Assembly’s budget negotiators are deciding now what state programs will be funded and at what level.

Contact your state rep and state senator to urge them to support a budget that improves our quality of life and helps create jobs, by:

  1. Funding mass transit at least to the annual amounts in the House version of the budget bill. State investment in public transportation provides indirect benefits, including substantial cost savings to other government programs because of increased access to jobs, health care, and education.
  2. Sustaining the $3 million in annual funding for the Hoosier State passenger rail line. This rail service benefits a large number of Indiana communities, as about 42% of Hoosiers live within 25 miles of a Hoosier State station.
  3. Providing at least $1 million per year in general funds for the Indiana Heritage Trust Fund, which enables Indiana to permanently protect new forests, wetlands, and trails. The Heritage Trust has proven to be a very efficient state investment and has protected 60,000 acres of public outdoor lands.
  4. Eliminating the cuts to IDEM’s and IDNR’s budgets. Nearly 17 million people visited our state parks and recreation areas last year, but the DNR does not have sufficient funding to keep these facilities in a good state of repair.

Background

Our state budget provides much-needed funds in caring for and protecting our environment and the health of all Hoosiers. Currently only one percent of our budget is allocated to conservation and the environment, which accounts for the budgets of both the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Department of Natural Resources.  For 2015, this equates to about $47 per person spent to ensure that Hoosiers have a healthy environment, to provide outdoor spaces for recreation, and to sustain our native wildlife, forests, lakes and rivers. This is less than many people spend each month on their smart phones.

IDEM and DNR have taken 10% and 15% cuts respectively over the last two budget cycles. These agencies currently operate on bare minimum budgets due to the recent recession and reduced state tax revenues. This has left both agencies operating without adequate staff for inspections, compliance, or environmental quality monitoring. In addition, funding for the Indiana Heritage Trust has been cut, leaving many conservation projects unfunded. In the 2015-2017 budget, both IDEM and DNR have been asked to cut their budgets – a 4% cut for IDEM, and a 1.4% cut for DNR —  making an already precarious situation for environmental oversight even worse.  The effects of these chronic budget cuts are now very evident:

  • IDEM is at a 10 year low in staffing, limiting its ability to perform critical tasks such as water quality monitoring.
  • DNR has over 200 staff vacancies – a 15% vacancy rate – and does not have sufficient funding to maintain and repair its buildings and facilities on state properties such as state parks and recreation areas, and has fewer field personnel who provide important habitat protection and land management advice to private landowners.

Of further concern is the insufficient state investment in public transit, which has been static for years and was facing a 3% cut for the 2015-17 biennium.  This cut was reaffirmed in the Senate Appropriations’ bill.  As a result, our 65 local transit agencies will be hard-pressed to maintain service as they face rising operations costs as well as increased demand for their service.

Unlike our neighboring states of Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, until recently the state provided virtually no support for intercity passenger rail service. This is changing, however, as the Pence administration has begun funding the Chicago to Indianapolis Hoosier State rail service in partnership with the communities along the route, and is close to finalizing a new agreement to keep the service running.

In order to address these budgetary concerns, HEC supports the following:

  • Maintaining IDEM and DNR budgets at their 2013-2015 levels.
  • A $2.5 million appropriation for the Indiana Heritage Trust in 2017, and $1 million a year for Clean Water Indiana.
  • $60 million in annual state funding for public transit.
  • $3 million in annual state funding for intercity passenger rail (included in the House and Senate committee versions).

Robust, well-funded environmental and conservation programs not only protect Hoosiers’ health and provide for outdoor recreation opportunities and conservation of our native ecosystems, but also contribute to our economic well-being. Quality of life – which includes community amenities such as clean air and water, parks, trails, walkability, and mass transit — is a key factor in business location decisions, and for young professionals deciding where to live and work. Tourism and outdoor recreation contribute over $10 billion a year to our economy, and employ thousands of Hoosiers. Instead of its current status as a low priority, environmental and conservation funding should be considered an essential investment for Hoosiers’ well-being and economic future.

Please contact your senator and representative today and urge their support for increased funding for public transit and the Indiana Heritage Trust.

Read our fact sheet here.