Joint committee discusses withheld funds

By Paolo Cisneros

Members of four Illinois Senate and House committees held a joint hearing in the state capital Wednesday to discuss Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s plan to withhold funding from the University of Illinois Extension, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research.

Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-Champaign, was on hand to voice his concerns about Blagojevich’s intentions.

“It’s frustrating to see this funding caught up in the Governor’s games,” he said in a press release. “If these programs do not receive funding, we will see job losses, cuts in programs that are absolutely vital for farms, and our children not having the experience of 4-H programs.”

Although the General Assembly appropriated money for all three programs, the Governor has released funds only for the Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts. For the current fiscal year, however, they have received only $1.6 million of $7.5 million appropriated to them.

Jeff Squibb, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, said that although the Governor is indeed withholding funding, the problem is that the funds appropriated by the General Assembly simply aren’t there.

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    “The bottom line is there currently is not underlying cash to pay those appropriations,” he said. “We’re not saying the programs are not worthwhile. What we’re saying is the legislature has to come up with a plan to find that additional revenue.”

    Testimony at the hearing was given by a variety of groups including the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, 4-H Kids, Extension employees, and the Council on Food and Agriculture Research.

    “It gave (the committees) an opportunity to hear from the people that are being directly affected by the withholding of these funds,” said Andy Munemoto, staffer for Sen. Frerichs. “This is something that directly affects citizens of Illinois.”