Debate on Transportation Fund Lockbox Amendments Continues
On November 8, Illinois voters will decide whether the revenue from the state's transportation-related fees and taxes will be locked away for transportation expenses only.
The only single way to make it through the General Assembly and onto the Illinois' ballot this year to the state's constitution of the proposed amendments.
Whether money raised from sources like the use of highways and mass transit or vehicle licensing and registration fees should be devoted solely to transportation-related efforts will be asked to the voters. It also covers the construction and maintenance of roadways and the expenses involve in enforcing traffic laws.
The proposal has encountered arguments from some critics for it lacks fiscal safety net to divert money from transportation funds in scenarios of emergency.
"The Safe Roads Amendment" was what the supporters have dubbed for it. They contend it would hold politicians accountable for using money within specific funds for costs not related to those funds.
State Representative Laura Fine (D-Glenview), who was one of only four state legislators to vote against the proposal, president and CEO of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, Michael Sturino, is a supporter of the amendment join to discuss the amendment.
Chicago Tonight asked Michael Sturino if he is in favor of the proposed amendment. According to the president and CEO responded that for too long, Springfield has not demonstrated the type of accountability that required in order to produce a more honest budget. He added that when consumers pay user fee for transportation projects through such ways as taxes at the gas pump, registration fees and license renewals, users expect that those funds will be compensated by improving the infrastructure that they used. Unfortunately that will be not the case and to ensure that the state legislator cannot continue to divert and raid those funds is through constitutional amendment.
In addition, during the discussion Chicago Tonight told Sturino, that critics say that his trade association has vested interest in this amendment. Sturino stressed out that the vested interested here are the people of the state of Illinois. If we allow the primary asset, the transportation network to shrink and to make us less economically competitive than we already are. He said that Illinois is already short-changed. It has joined a broad coalition of other advocates for transportation are bipartisan which has a broad appeal.
CT (Chicago Tonight) said that critics also argue that excess money sitting in these funds could be used towards education or social services, especially considering the state's constant budget woes. It asked if it is going to negatively impact the state. Sturino, answered that he believe that it is going to improve the situation is Springfield. When there's no discipline, there's no accountability, there's a view by some in the General Assembly which can be raided willy-nilly because they do not have the resolve to make some of the tough budget decisions, like increasing revenues or making cuts.
CT asked Laura Fine the reason why she is against this proposed amendment. She said that she has lot of concerns about the amendment. She emphasized that her state needs health, safety and welfare of Illinois citizens. She said education funding should be included. She pleaded not to get her wrong for she thinks transportation is a priority in our state; however, she think it's setting a bad precedent and opening up Pandora's box to require funding to be set for a certain situation.
CT raised a follow-up question to Fine, if she would have voted for a proposal that included an emergency exception like that, Fine quickly replied that she would definitely feel more comfortable supporting it. Yet she feels like they are almost putting the cart before the horse here. They had a lot of talk about revenue in the state of Illinois and by putting this in place now, it's not allowing us to continue the conversation about revenue. It puts us in a difficult situation down the line. She stressed out that she thinks of it as well-intentioned and we should focus on transportation because we're a hub. But when they were writing the constitution in the 1970s, they thought a flat tax was a good idea and now we've been having a lot of conversations about changing the taxing system and it's very difficult because of the way our constitution is in lockstep with the flat tax.
According to CT, a coalition advocating for the proposal claims about $6.8 billion was diverted from Illinois transportation funds for non-transportation-related costs. The Civic Federation said that number is closer to nearly $520 million. Despite of the discrepancy, the issue of diverting money from these funds a serious problem. Thus, this funding is needed after all. Based on a 2013 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Illinois is tied with Connecticut for having the highest percentage of roads in poor or mediocre condition.
Fine said that for her this is a conversation about the fact that we have a revenue problem in the state of Illinois. We need to fix our budget and revenue system. Our state needs to fix transportation. This is part of the reason businesses come to our state: planes, trains and automobiles. That's no question. That's a priority. Yet it is hard for her to tell her constituents that our school cannot get any money from the state this year but has extra money sitting in this fund.
CT emphasized that this is the only proposed constitutional amendment to make it through the General Assembly and onto the Illinois ballot. It had plenty of bipartisan support. CT then asked again the comment of Fine about it.
Fine revealed her opinion that she thinks part of it could have been, when they proposed this, we were concerned that our road projects wouldn't be funded this year and many projects were midway through. She can't talk in behalf of her colleagues, but I think that helped instigate it because we thought it could be devastating if these projects were not complete. This was a way to say, "Hey, no matter what, we're going to have the funding for those projects."
Moreover, when Fine was asked by CT of what would be her hypothetical proposal to develop the state's infrastructure, Fine shared her thoughts that in a perfect world, we'd fix the revenue and tax system to ensure that we could fund everything. We need to invest properly and we wouldn't have to rob Peter to pay Paul.
Fine conclude that everyone sees and knows where the state is fiscally right now and we are not in a good situation. However, we need to make sure that we uplift that situation. Therefore, these important projects, like human services, education, higher education and our roads especially, can be properly funded.