Illinois has not had a bold open space funding initiative in 15 years.
Nationally, Illinois ranks 48th in terms of open space and recreational acres available per citizen.
Less than 1% of Illinois’ land and water resources are protected for public use; consequently, Illinois is ranked last in the Midwest in natural area protection.
Our neighboring state are surpassing us with ambitious open space programs and innovative funding streams that invest in land and water resources. Minnesota and Wisconsin spend three times annually what Illinois spends each year.
Past Issues with Open Space Funding
Historically, funds from existing state programs for open spaces have been either underfunded, transferred to the state’s General Revenue Fund to cover basic state government programs, or completely unfunded. In 2009, the Illinois state capital budget provided only .08% of what was modestly estimated the state would need for demand in open space.
Funding for Illinois conservation programs have dropped sharply in recent years. After reaching a high in the early 2000s, with $49 million spent in 2001, state spending plummeted to just $4 million in 2004 and has never topped $10 million annually since the 2008 recession. Spending on Conservation 2000 (now known as Partners in Conservation), a program dedicated to habitat protection, dropped from $13.4 million in 2002 to $2.78 million in 2007. The Open Lands Trust Program, which funds the acquisition of land for public conservation and open spaces related to outdoor recreation purposes, spent $135.7 million on land acquisition between 1998 and 2003 and just $8.6 million since 2004.
Dedicated Funding Source for Open Space Land Acquisition
PPW members are committed to finding long-term solutions to this long-term underfunding problem. Land acquisition is often opportunity based, requires significant resources and coordination among parties, and takes time to execute. A stable and reliable funding source can secure future generations with open space, natural areas, parks and recreational opportunities worth preserving.
The Public wants Investment in Open Space
In a 2013 statewide survey, 69% of Illinois residents supported paying more in property taxes to improve and maintain park district facilities, 60% supported paying more to acquire more open space trails and 57% for restoring and protecting natural areas and habitats.
A September 2013 national poll underscored what local government leaders have found in Illinois when they have asked their taxpayers/voters to support new funding for open space in their communities:
- 7 in 10 say conservation funding has a big return
- 8 in 10 believe that land and water conservation programs benefit the economy, public health and quality of life
- 8 in 10 across party lines support keeping conservation funding