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home : news : local   April 29, 2016

3/20/2013 8:00:00 AM
$2 license surcharge for state parks takes effect


A car exits Starved Rock State Park on Tuesday afternoon. Illinois state license plate fees have increased $2, from $99 to $101. The money from the increase, expected to be around $20 million a year, will go to the Department of Natural Resources to support parks, including Starved Rock. NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
+ click to enlarge
A car exits Starved Rock State Park on Tuesday afternoon. Illinois state license plate fees have increased $2, from $99 to $101. The money from the increase, expected to be around $20 million a year, will go to the Department of Natural Resources to support parks, including Starved Rock.

NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
Tom Collins
NewsTribune Senior Reporter



Did you get a bill from Jesse White’s office? Then you probably noticed your automobile registration is now $101. Last year, it was $99.
Here’s what happened: Late last year, the state passed a law adding a $2 surcharge to vehicle registration, causing the flat fee to crack $100 for the first time in state history.
The extra money will help maintain state parks including Starved Rock. This month, Illinois motorists are paying the piper.
Tom Wall of Peru, past president of the Better Fishing Association, isn’t thrilled with the increase, but he’s willing to pay in if it means better park maintenance.
“If the money actually goes to the state parks like it’s supposed to,” Wall said skeptically, “then I think it’s probably for the better overall good.
“Certainly, anything is better than closing state parks.”
That’s what state Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) figured when he proposed the surcharge last spring as an alternative to charging admission at state parks.
Lawmakers had kicked around ways to boost funding for state parks — and eliminate a $750 million backlog in park maintenance — and eventually settled on the $2 surcharge.
Mautino got the surcharge moving when he filed an amendment to an unrelated bill (SB 1566), and the amendment passed the House on 61-56. Mautino, of course, voted yes. The Senate then approved the surcharge on Nov. 28 by a 39-11 vote; state Sen. Sue Rezin also voted yes. Gov. Pat Quinn then signed Public Act 97-1136 into lawDec. 7.
The need, Mautino said, was urgent.
“The parks fund would have run out of money during this fiscal year, so there would have been no money going forward,” he said. “The department had been cut so badly they had to use money from other sources — fishing licenses, hunting licenses — to shore up operations to the park and keep things open.”
The upshot is that Illinois’ vehicle registration fee is the second highest among states that charge a flat fee. Among flat-fee states, Mississippi charges $14 a year and only Maryland’s rate of $128 a year tops the fee in Illinois.
That is not to say Illinois is second-most expensive in the nation, however. Some states charge variable fees that can far exceed flat rates; Arizona’s formula, for example, includes a vehicle license tax based on manufacturer’s suggested retail price.
Nevertheless, vehicle registration in Illinois has climbed sharply, if not steadily, since 1999. That year, then-Gov. George Ryan passed the “Illinois FIRST” capital improvement program and funded it by increasing vehicle registration fees from $48 a year to $78 a year, a 63 percent jump overnight. The fees then kept rising.
Henry Haupt, spokesman for White’s office, said public reaction has been limited. The $2 surcharge has not lit up White’s switchboard.
“We have not received a large volume of complaint calls,” Haupt said, “in large part because people understand the Illinois General Assembly adopted it and Secretary of State White opposed it. He believes people pay enough already.”
Mark McConnaughhay, site superintendent for Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks, said visitors would see improvements at the parks — though perhaps not right away, as funds would be phased in.
“What money would be allotted would be spent on trail improvements,” he said. “We’ll work on updating our signage and improving our trails. A lot of our projects were scheduled, but the money wasn’t there.”
Mautino previously stated that Quinn has pledged to not divert the funds, which are not collected and kept by White’s office, into the general fund or other areas of need.
Specifically, $1 of each $2 fee should go to repair and rebuild roads, structures and buildings in parks. The rest would go to support operations of the park system, the Division of Water and the Division of Mines and Minerals.

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@newstrib.com.












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