State budget cuts to have little effect on Illinois State Fair

Andy Brownfield

The Illinois State Fair will still go on in the wake of state budget cuts, but some blue-ribbon winners may find their prize checks smaller.

Both the Illinois House and Senate, which are drawing up separate state budgets this spring, plan to cut funding for fair awards - by $20,000 and $40,000, respectively.

"For the most part, the impact on the Illinois State Fair would be rather small," Department of Agriculture spokesman Jeff Squibb said. Agriculture is in charge of putting on the fair.

 "The fair will have to either reduce prizes or make up the difference out of another fund," Squibb said.

The fair holds more than 8,700 contests, ranging from choosing the top animals and crops to best-decorated diapers and best breakfast food on a stick.

Prize awards typically are nominal amounts intended to compensate winners for the cost of entering the contests, Squibb said.

Both chambers have set aside $4.3 million from a special state fair fund to pay for the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. The prize money, however, comes from the state's general revenue fund, which pays for most of the expenses of running the state.

"(Awards and premiums) is the only GRF money the state fair receives," Squibb said. "At the amounts being considered for cuts, yes, we can afford to make it up (from the state fair fund)."

Even with cuts, the state fair is in no danger of going away - the state is required by law to hold the fair every year.

 "The General Assembly would have to pass a law to get rid of the fair," Squibb said. "It's not optional."

However, local lawmakers are still unhappy about the cuts.

"I think it shows the priorities of this present administration," Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, said. "Here you have something that's really important to these rural districts. It teaches a lot to young people about responsibility ... and at a whim, they're cutting out a very small line item, as far as actual budget."

Springfield Republican Rep. Raymond Poe is considering a proposal to add a "racino" - a horse racing track at which video gaming can take place - in order to make up for funding cuts to state and county fairs.

"It might possibly be part of a big racing bill if there's one passed," Poe said. "At this point, it's pretty infant."

Members of the House appropriations committee that arrived at that chamber's cuts said they weren't enacted because of cultural insensitivity from Chicago legislators towards downstate.

"I am, for one, a fan of the fair - it's a huge value-added plus, especially for people from Chicago," said Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, said. "You can learn things about the agricultural component of our state. I'm from a concrete jungle, if you will. That (the cuts) sort of hurt me a bit."

The House and Senate's conflicting budget proposals could also hurt county fairs.

The House set aside $5.1 million for county fairs in its proposal. That includes $1.3 million for the rehabilitation of fairgrounds. While that is $100,000 more than county fairs received in the current fiscal year, fair appropriations were cut $2 million, from $7 million to $5 million, between fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

The House proposal would represent a $1.9 million difference from fiscal year 2009.

The Senate's budget would allocate $4.3 million for county fairs, counting $975,800 for fairgrounds rehabilitation. If that version of the budget passes, it would represent a $2.7 million cut from fiscal year 2009.

        Andy Brownfield can be reached at (217) 782-3095.