Environmental Funding and the State Budget

MMSF backcountry 3

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

 

Support quality of life investments — in land conservation and public transit –in HB 1001

Update

The Indiana House of Representatives has passed HB 1001, the state budget bill.  The bill is now being considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville).

The House-passed budget version maintains funding for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Indiana Department of Natural Resources at the levels proposed by Governor Pence.  The bill appropriates $970,000 a year in general funds for Clean Water Indiana, and slightly increases public mass transit funding (see below for more details) over the amount proposed in the governor’s budget.  $3 million a year is appropriated for passenger rail, to fund the Indianapolis to Chicago Hoosier State service.

However, there is no increase for the Indiana Heritage Trust, which continues to receive only a token appropriation in the budget.

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.  However, the House of Representatives has modestly increased transit funding – a $1.7 million increase over the Governor’s budget in FY 2016, and a $4.7 million increase in FY 2017.  This amount is divided among 65 local transit agencies, who are facing rising costs of fuel and operations 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.

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 annual appropriation for the Indiana Heritage Trust and $1 million 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 House-passed budget).

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.

Senate Appropriations Committee   Follow the link to the committee webpage, click on the committee members’ names and send an email.

 

Read our fact sheet here.