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

Every two years the Indiana General Assembly adopts a budget for the state of Indiana. For the current budget term, the state is spending over $58 billion on programs including health care, education, transportation, and economic development.  Roughly two-thirds of our budget income comes from state taxes and fees, and the balance comes from the federal government.

A paltry one percent of the state budget is allocated to conservation and the environment – representing the budgets for 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.

During the recent recession, Indiana’s environmental management and natural resource budgets were cut, as were most state agency budgets, due to reduced state tax revenues. These cuts were proposed by the Daniels and Pence administrations, and approved by the legislature.  The result is that IDEM and DNR operate for the most part with bare minimum budgets that do not fund adequate staff for inspections, compliance, or environmental quality monitoring.  What’s more, state funding for the Indiana Heritage Trust, Indiana’s premier land conservation program, has been cut, leaving worthy conservation projects unfunded. For the upcoming 2015-2017 budget, IDEM and DNR have been asked to reduce their budgets by another 3%. This reduction comes on top of a 10% cut in IDEM’s budget, and a 15% cut in DNR’s budget, over the last two budget cycles.

Despite growing demand for sustainable transportation alternatives,  the Indiana legislature cut state spending for public transit in 2011, by eliminating the dedicated share of state sales tax revenues that provided funding to local bus agencies. Since then the general assembly has appropriated a static amount of $42.5 million a year, distributed among 66 local transit agencies, while fuel and other operating costs as well as demand for transit services have increased. And unlike our neighboring states of Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Indiana has 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.

For the 2015-2017 state budget, HEC supports:
• Maintaining IDEM and DNR budgets at their 2013-2015 levels, meaning no further cuts in annual funding.
• A $2 million annual appropriation for the Indiana Heritage Trust, and $1.5 million a year for Clean Water Indiana.
• $60 million in annual state funding for public transit, generated from a modest, dedicated share of the state sales tax.
• $3 million in annual state funding for intercity passenger rail.

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 check back as the session grows nearer for more details on the proposed 2015-2017 Indiana State Budget, and HEC’s analysis of environmental, conservation, and transportation funding trends in Indiana.