THE ISSUE: Starved Rock fee proposal will have to wait again
OUR VIEW: Plan isn’t dead, but we expect tweaks before it moves forward
It’s not entirely accurate to say Senate Bill 1310 got lost in the shuffle as legislative proposals advanced at breakneck speed over the last few days (and bonus days) of the spring General Assembly session, but state lawmakers certainly had more pressing priorities than whether to institute a parking fee at Starved Rock State Park.
That’s not to diminish the importance of the crown jewel of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, only to say we understand why, with everything else that demanded attention at the end of May and early June, a bill deemed not quite right couldn’t find its way to the bargaining table.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, floated the proposal in early February, introducing a bill allowing IDNR to implement daily and annual admission fees to both drivers and pedestrians. When the Senate and Environment Conservation Committee passed the bill in mid-March, it didn’t have a fee structure in place, but did include language calling for allocating 80 percent of revenue to infrastructure at the park and 20 percent toward public safety, taking effect in 2020.
Speaking to media and constituents about the bill, Rezin said she was considering a $5 daily admission fee as well as an option for an annual pass. She also said she would work to make sure La Salle County residents would be exempted from the fee.
That sticking point appeared to doom the proposal, which was called for a vote on the Senate floor twice in April, each time falling one vote shy of being sent to the House. We didn’t hear much after that until the middle of last week when Rezin announced the bill wouldn’t come up for another vote before the end of the session.
We give Rezin credit for willing to be creative in getting much-needed funding for one of the main economic drivers of her district. She tried to go to bat for her voters, pointing out La Salle County taxpayers already foot much of the park’s upkeep through county and township road maintenance funds, as well as emergency responders called into the park.
Theoretically the money the parking fee would generate for infrastructure and public safety would to some degree cut down on the number of visits local fire departments would have to make inside throughout the year. It’s also possible a fee would, initially at least, cut down on attendance, though that might actually help whatever maintenance improvements IDNR makes last a little longer based on reduced wear and tear.
These are the kinds of things that might be able to put into a comprehensive study of the fee and its potential positive and negative impacts, but Illinois generally isn’t in the position to spend money to learn the best way to make money. Suffice it to say the people who keep Starved Rock running feel there’s not enough money to reach the park’s peak potential, and it’s unlikely that concern abates absent intervention.
We expect to see the bill surface again next spring, and wouldn’t be surprised to see it revised to apply more broadly to other IDNR properties, many of which could use their own cash infusion. Nor would we be shocked if the plan never advances with the local carveout preserved.
Before then, we trust Rezin will continue speaking with people throughout the district about the proposal and its potential effects. We encourage our readers to be in communication with her and her House colleagues to express their concerns.
And in the meantime, get out and enjoy Starved Rock and all our other wonderful state parks. They’re not free, insofar as our tax dollars fund the IDNR, but they remain one of the best ways to enjoy life in this special part of Illinois.