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February 4, 2011

02/07/11 Indiana House Republicans today rejected efforts by State Rep. Nancy Dembowski (D-Knox) to protect funds designed to improve the quality of lakes throughout the state. 

During floor debate in today’s session of the House, the Republican majority turned away Dembowski’s proposal to make sure that fees paid by boaters to fund lake and river enhancement in Indiana remain dedicated to that purpose. 

The legislator’s efforts were inspired by the Daniels Administration’s decision to revert more than $2.4 million from the Lake and River Enhancement Fund to the state budget’s general fund to pay for general government spending. Another $1.4 million was diverted for the same purpose from a fund set up to pay conservation officers’ salaries.

“Indiana boaters willingly pay a fee on their annual registration because the money is supposed to go toward improving the quality of lakes and rivers,” Dembowski said.

“Most of them have found out that these fees were not used to pay for grants for that specific purpose,” she continued. “Instead, the governor used that money to shore up other areas of the state budget. I cannot guess why the administration chose to pick on boaters for this reason, but I can tell you that the people who regularly use the 27 lakes in the House district I represent are pretty upset about it.”

Dembowski noted that most enhancement funds are used by lake associations to remove invasive species or improve the quality of water.

“The associations need the grants because they cannot generate the finances needed to pay for eradication, which can be very expensive,” she said.

 “There are two very disturbing implications to the administration’s decision and the House majority’s failure to correct it,” Dembowski added. “By shifting fees that were created for a specific reason to the state’s general fund to pay for government spending, we have basically turned that fee into a tax. Secondly, we are allowing problems to build up on our lakes and rivers that could turn out to have disastrous long-term implications.”

Dembowski said that Indiana’s freshwater lakes are a showcase attraction that bring in millions of tourism dollars.

“If the condition of these lakes prevents tourists from coming to Indiana, and causes boaters to stay away, it will have a major impact on our state’s economy,” she told House members. “Last summer, many people came to meetings of the Lake Management Work Group that I have chaired in the past to complain about this situation. They want to know why the governor took their money away.

“To date, I don’t have a good answer, because the administration isn’t willing to talk about it and the people in charge of the Indiana House aren’t interested in debating it on the House floor,” Dembowski said. “Rest assured, however, that there will be plenty of opportunities to discuss this in the remaining days and weeks of this session.”