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Winkeler: Dismantling of IDNR was predictable

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Candidate Bruce Rauner appeared at this newspaper for an endorsement interview several weeks prior to the 2014 election.

As a member of the editorial board at the time I posed several questions related directly to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. One question concerned the Sustainability Bill, the most important thing that has happened to IDNR in a decade.

The Sustainability Bill funnels two dollars from the cost of each vehicle license plate to IDNR.

Rauner punted on the question, saying he didn't know enough about it. Just as damning, he spoke about IDNR as though the state was still in the dark days of the Rod Blagojevich administration.

Watching Rauner walk away from our conference room I remember thinking, "DNR is in deep trouble if he gets elected."

Fast forward 10 months, and I'm sad to say I was correct.

Rauner's projected budget for this year called for IDNR's general revenue to be cut substantially, essentially gutting the Sustainability Act. Piling on, he's announced the closure of the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta and issued layoff notices to 33 Conservation Police officers.

There seems to be some momentum among taxpayers to privatize the WSRC, citing the fact that the complex loses money.

Fair enough, it's not a money maker. But, neither are other state parks, libraries, museums and other institutions that are important quality of life components in Illinois. So much of political discussion is driven by economics. Ask yourself this, would businesses consider moving to Illinois if the state shutters its parks, closes libraries and museums.

Granted, the hardcore will say certainly. The honest, and pragmatic, know the truth. Sometimes the bottom line isn't really the bottom line.

I have some reservations about privatizing the WSRC. On the other hand, if that is the only way to keep the complex open, I can live with it. But, it seems counterproductive on a number of levels to shutter the facility.

And, firing Conservation Police Officers? That's just unacceptable. There are already 17 counties in Illinois without a CPO. Cutting this many officers has the potential to create a wild, wild Midwest.

Given these proposed cuts, can park closings be far behind?

If you love Illinois and it's natural beauty, this is a sad time.

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