Earlier in the summer I wrote to you about short-sighted cuts to critical investments in soil health and water quality that the Obama Administration had proposed and Congress was poised to implement. In a surprise move the US Senate funding bill released in July fully funds the Conservation Stewardship Program (one of the most important and critical USDA conservation program) rather than cutting the program by more than $200 million as the House of Representatives did and the Obama Administration proposed.
Unfortunately, that good news is overshadowed by Illinois’ budget impasse and the potential impact it might have on soil and water conservation in Illinois. Illinois’ 2016 fiscal year began on July 1st without a budget. Here we are several months later with still no budget, while Illinois’ Republican Governor and the Democrats that control both the House and the Senate aren’t any closer to putting together a reasonable state budget that is both balanced and fair.
Oddly enough, due to court orders, consent decrees and other agreements, 90% of the budget is essentially already in place and payments are being made. The budget battle largely revolves around that last 10% which includes state support for agriculture programs and most importantly, in the context of this blog, the State’s Soil and Water Conservation District system.
Soil and Water Conservation Districts and their staff are on the front lines working with farmers and landowners in Illinois to do all they can to protect the soils and water of which all of Illinois depends on. Over the past decade these programs have been cut again and again to the point in which now they are a shadow of what they once were. Which has no doubt contributed to the fact that today Illinois is the number 1 contributor of the pollution that is causing the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
Agriculture is Illinois’ largest industry and the foundation of our state’s economy and cultural history but it seems to be an afterthought in the minds of all of our elected leaders. The budget impasse, if not resolved soon, threatens to break the already fragile Soil and Water Conservation District system in Illinois.
Illinois has some of the richest and most productive soils in the world along with abundant fresh water yet, instead of investing in the long term foundation of our state we continue to sacrifice the future for the present. The state that destroys its soils destroys itself.
In late August, Representative Jerry Costello II introduced legislation to fix the problem. If you care about sustainable agriculture and soil and water conservation please call your IL State Representative now and ask them to co-sponsor HB4282.