Legislative Update

By John Goss

The final version of the 2023-25 Indiana budget contained many positives for conservation. Although several items from the budget proposed by Governor Holcomb were either eliminated or lessened, most were included in at least some form.
The following photos show work recently completed through funds already allotted.

Highlights of the budget include:

  1. Increased operating funding for DNR landholding divisions, including State Parks and Nature Preserves. These increases were long overdue, and were passed as proposed in Holcomb’s original budget.
  2. Funding for the second phase of state salary increases.  The proposed total was decreased slightly by the legislature, but survived largely intact.
  3. $100 million for construction of Potato Creek Inn. While the inn was originally authorized in the 2021 budget bill, and is under design, full funding for the construction was still needed.
  4. $10 million for the President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust, for purchase of natural areas.  These funds will likely be split between DNR landholding divisions, land trusts and local parks.  While revenue from the sale of environmental license plates has historically gone into this fund, it is the first time in many years that significant general fund dollars have been appropriated for it.  This is a significant drop from the $25 million proposed by Gov. Holcomb, but still a huge breakthrough.
  5. $150 million for deferred maintenance at state facilities.  It does not state which agencies these funds will be routed to, but it is hoped that much of this will go to DNR to continue catching up on the deferred maintenance issues that accumulated over the many years of neglect.
  6. $5 million for McCormick’s Creek campground to rebuild facilities after the devastating tornado damage that was suffered recently.
  7. $30 million for continuation of the Next Level Trail program.  This fund is primarily used for paved bicycle trails, but last time did include a mountain bike trail at Brown County State Park
  8. $6 million per year for Clean Water Indiana funds.  While not directly affecting state parks or nature preserves, inclusion of these funds benefits conservation in the state.
  9. $37.5 million for the Origin Park near Falls of the Ohio State Park.  This is a local project with which State Parks has some involvement, but does not directly own or manage. Funds for this were not requested by Gov. Holcomb, but were added in the State Senate.

Absent from this final budget was $3 million proposed by Gov. Holcomb for an interpretive center and Plaza of Nations (Native American) at Prophetstown State Park, near Lafayette. This was a big disappointment to all who see the tremendous potential for the park as a major travel destination for visitors from throughout the Midwest.

One of the biggest victories for the session was defeat of a last minute attempt by developers to further gut Indiana’s wetland protections.  This change in the wetland language was added in a House committee to a Senate passed bill with little or no discussion.  It was then passed by the House.  The Senate ruled the wetland regulation changes were not germane to the original bill, and thus against legislative rules.  This killed the bill. Conservationists owe a big thanks to Senate leadership on that one.