Statutory Transfer of the 4% Timber Harvest Fee out of the Forestry Development Fund
Since 1983, monies collected by the mandatory 4% timber harvest fee have been deposited into the 'earmarked' Forestry Development Fund that is administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The purpose of this money was to fund the activities of the Illinois Forestry Development Council and to establish a forest landowner cost-share program that would encourage forest stewardship on 4.2 million acres of private forest land. However, since 2004, with the initiation of Public Act 094-0091, over $2.9 million dollars had been authorized for statutory transfer out of the Illinois Forestry Development Fund (Fund 905) into the General Revenue Fund for uses other than those intended by passage of the Illinois Forestry Development Act (525 ILCS 15). To date, $1.7 million dollars have actually been transferred.
The original language of the Forestry Development Act was clear in its intent on how these funds were to be used. The FDA law did not allow for the use of funds generated by the 4% timber harvest fee to be used for agency operations or to cover state budget shortfalls. The sweeping of these funds by the previous Administration, as authorized in the legislative budget language, has resulted in these funds being used inappropriately. Over the 4 fiscal years from 2004 to 2008, nearly $4 million dollars have been collected in 4% harvest fee revenues while only $2.1 million dollars have been spent as directed by the FDA law. It is clear that IDNR has been using these dedicated funds to cover operating budget shortfalls beyond the General Revenue transfers by the current administration. This has caused much anguish and concern among Illinois forest landowners and natural resource professionals throughout the state. Opportunities to establish, maintain, and improve forested habitats are being lost because of this continuing action.
In an effort to reverse these administrative transfers, HB 3669 was introduced. This bill never made it out of Committee and for all practical purposes it is a dead bill. In light of current state budget shortfalls, there is renewed interest by the Governor in revisiting special funds transfers into the General Revenue Fund. IFA is monitoring the legislative process and will take the appropriate action to avoid such "sweeps" from the Forestry Development Fund. Discussions with IDNR to emphasize Forestry staffing needs and to prioritize existing resources in meeting these severe shortfalls will continue.