June 12, 2024

State cuts SWCD funding

Michael Woods

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois General Assembly approved a record $53.1 billion spending plan that included some good and bad news for agriculture-related programs.

Among the cuts was a 47% reduction in appropriations to Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

House lawmakers passed the budget near sunrise May 29 by a 65-46 margin. Seven Democrats joined Republicans in opposition.

The Senate vote was 38-21 with three Democrats joining Republicans voting against the plan.

The fiscal year 2025 budget featured over $1.1 billion in revenue increases, bolstered by tax hikes on sports wagering, video gaming and businesses.

The current 15% tax rate for sportsbooks was increased to between 20% and 40%, based on profits. Lawmakers increased the video gaming tax by 1%.

In addition, the legislation caps a tax discount claimed by retailers at $1,000 monthly.

The budget’s largest increase is the extension of the state’s cap on the amount of net operating losses corporations can write off on their income taxes, generating another $526 million for the state.

There were no changes in the personal income tax or standard deductions. It will also eliminate the state’s 1% sales tax on groceries.

SWCD Reduction

Many of the budget line items overseen by the state Department of Agriculture were unchanged from the previous fiscal year with the exception of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

The budget reduced the amount appropriated to SWCDs “for ordinary and contingent administrative expenses” from $8.5 million last year to $4.5 million in FY 2025, a return to pre-2000 funding levels.

“While the outcome we had advocated for and was led to believe would happen did not come to fruition, we will find a path forward to ensure that the states essential Soil and Water Conservation Districts remain on the frontlines in protecting the state’s most vital natural resources — soil and water,” Michael Woods, Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts executive director, wrote in an email to SWCD colleagues, stakeholders and supporters.

“At this time, we must take the high road and find a path forward, not dwell in the actions taken against SWCD funding and the direct attack at intergenerational equity and sustainable investing.

“Rather, we must find a path forward to ensure that we: diversify our treasury to become less dependent on funding that is volatile; maintain service to our stakeholders to ensure the acceleration of locally led efforts to conserve, protect and restore land and waters across the state; and engage those that value the frontline boots-on-the-ground conservation essential to protect the stability and sustainability of Illinois.

“It is once again on us, the state’s SWCD directors, staff and stakeholders, to ensure that we elevate the message across the state that will ensure that Illinois puts in motion the essential efforts to meet objectives of the nutrient loss reduction strategies, achieve grassroots conservation essential to protect the states vital natural resources and raise the bar of climate resiliency across the state.”

The budget did appropriate $3 million for grants to SWCDs to fund projects for landowner cost-sharing, stream-bank stabilization, nutrient-loss protection and sustainable agriculture. That was amount matched the previous year.

Cover Crop Increase

The new budget increased funding for the Crop Insurance Rebate Initiative, also known as the Fall Covers for Spring Savings program, to $960,000 — a $300,000 year-over-year increase.

The initiative gives farmers whose applications are accepted a $5-an-acre subsidy on their next year’s crop insurance for every acre of cover crops they plant.

In fiscal years 2020-2021, 50,000 acres of cover crop benefit were provided under a $300,000 state budget amount.

For the 2022-2024 fiscal years, the program was more than doubled to $660,000 in funding for an enrollment of 100,000 acres.

Bipartisan bills were introduced in both the House and Senate calling for an appropriation of $3.1 million for costs associated with the program that would provide incentives for at least 500,000 acres.

The House bill was assigned to the Appropriations-General Services Committee, and Senate version was referred to Assignments with no action taken on either piece of legislation.

FFA Support

Lawmaker continued their support for the FFA membership with a program that began in 2022 by once again allocating $550,000 for costs associated with membership fees.

The program increased membership from 23,000 to over 41,000 students and over 380 chapters.

In addition, $100,000 was appropriated from the FFA Fund for grants to Illinois Association FFA, unchanged from last year.

Marketing Cut

Monies budgeted for promoting and marketing Illinois agricultural exports was reduced from $2.1 million last year to $1,422,900 this year.

Unchanged

Numerous other budget items supporting Illinois agriculture matched the previous fiscal year included:

• State Cooperative Extension Service Trust Fund for operational expenses and programs at the University of Illinois Cook County Cooperative Extension Service — $2,449,200.

• State Cooperative Extension Service Trust Fund — $10,994,700.

• For distribution to encourage and aid county fairs and other agricultural societies, this distribution shall be prorated and approved by the DOA — $1,818,600.

• Premiums to agricultural extension or 4-H clubs to be distributed at a uniform rate — $786,400.

• Premiums to vocational agriculture fairs — $325,000

• Rehabilitation of county fairgrounds — $1,314,300.

• Grants and other purposes for county fair and state fair horse racing — $329,300.

• Costs associated with the Local Food Infrastructure Grant Act — $2,000,000.

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor