Illinois drivers would have to pay an additional $2 for their license plate stickers to help the state take better care of its parks beginning next year under legislation the Senate sent to the governor Wednesday (Nov. 28).
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn supported the fee hike as a way to bring in more money to fix crumbling roads, leaky roofs, trails and broken toilets in a state park system that has seen its budget cut heavily over the past dozen years, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The extra $2 would push the annual sticker cost for a regular license plate to $101. The fee increase applies to plates for motorcycles, pickup trucks, vans and cars. It wouldn’t be imposed on commercial or recreational vehicles, however.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, and Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, passed the Senate overwhelmingly Wednesday. The House approved it last spring.
The Department of Natural Resources estimated it needs as much as $750 million for repairs. The fee increase is expected to raise more than $20 million a year. The agency will be allowed to put half that money into construction projects and the rest into staff and programs.
Agency Director Marc Miller called the action a “victory for conservation and the environment in Illinois,” saying the move allows Illinoisans to use parks without having to pay entrance fees.
The agency’s staffing level has dropped from about 2,600 employees in 2002 to just under 1,200 today, Miller said. The annual budget has dropped from $107 million to $48 million. Miller said the agency also is looking at charging fees for out-of-state visitors to the parks.
Secretary of State Jesse White opposed the bill because he wants money for license plates to be used to support drivers and roads, spokesman Henry Haupt said. One hitch: The law would take effect Jan. 1 if Quinn signs it. But renewal notices already have been sent for annual fees due Jan. 14, and the soonest White’s office expects to be able to implement the $2 fee hike would be for March renewals, Haupt said.