Yes or No on the Road Funding November Ballot Question?

Have you received your little blue booklet from the Illinois Secretary of State about the proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution? Mine arrived this week — it contains a useful summary of the question that will be on the ballot on November 8th.

What’s it all about?

There are a number of ways to answer that question — but it can be argued that it’s the road building lobby fighting for the dollars ear marked for roads but are now being redirected into things such as the government employee pension funds.

It’s the road builders way of saying, do you want “safe roads” or do you want six-figure pensions for many thousands of retired teachers? You can’t have both; not without a massive tax increase that will drive more business and families out of the state leaving a greater burden on those of us planning to stay.

That might strike readers as too cynical, but if you visit the website of the Illinois Policy Institute and scan their reports on the fiscal state of the state, you will find grounds for cynicism.

What’s the Question?

Should we amend the Illinois Constitution to require that “all transportation-related revenue” is to be “dedicated solely to public highways, roads, streets, bridges, and mass transit.” That’s language from, the website of Citizens to Protect Transportation Funding (CPTF), the organization encouraging a yes vote.

According to CPTF, “If the Amendment passes, transportation funding will be secured, and we will have the chance to make long overdue investments in our infrastructure.” “If the Amendment fails,” the group argues, “money for transportation will continue to be at risk of mismanagement and abuse by Springfield.”

Most legislators seem to agree – the vote in favor of state House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 36 was won by a 98-4 roll call in the Illinois House and 55-0 roll call in the Illinois Senate. And the list of backers extends beyond legislators and road builders to labor unions, trucking organizations, and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Why so much support? According to the facts presented at the CPTF website,

  • 4,200 Illinois bridges are in “poor condition”
  • 50% of Illinois roads are in “poor condition”
  • $6 billion in roads money as been swept away in the last 10 years alone

With facts like that, how could there be any opposition? Here is one state government insider’s summation of the pro and con:

Pro on the amendment: it puts a fence around tax monies that were paid to support road and road infrastructure projects. The monies cannot be used for any other purpose or moved to another fund.

Con on the amendment: 1) it amends the Constitution for a purpose that some would question if such a restriction warrants constitutional protection. 2) It restricts the General Assembly and Governor’s ability to use these funds in tight fiscal times.

What’s the Problem?

Here is that same state government insider giving us the background:

When Governor Rauner came into office, the General Assembly dipped into a whole bunch of OSFs (Other State Funds — i.e., not the General Revenue Fund) and gave the Governor $1.3 billion, which was put into the General Revenue Fund, to pay various bills. Of that $1.3 billion, we took $250 million out of the Road Fund.

Now, in and of itself, that is not a problem. When we “borrow” from other funds and shift monies from those funds into GRF, there is a requirement that the borrowing be paid back within a certain period of time with interest.

However, and this is the REAL problem, the General Assembly said that the Governor did not have to pay back the money. So, it wasn’t “borrowing” from other funds, it was “taking” from other funds.

So, dedicated funds v. flexibility. Borrowing v. taking. Safe roads v. government employee pension funds.

Citizens to Protect Transportation Funding emphasize on their website that the amendment does not raise taxes, which is true. What is also true is that there isn’t enough money to go around to fund state government as it is currently structured and being managed. No better example exists, in this writer’s opinion, than the taxpayer funded K-12 and university systems; they are fiscally bloated, increasingly outdated, and the K-12 system continues to under-perform.

What do you think will happen first? Serious restructuring and reform of state government’s big ticket items? Or a massive tax increase?

A 60% YES vote is required for the amendment to pass. Make sure to cast your vote on this important question on your November ballot.

Here’s one of the videos featured on the CPTF website: