When Illinoisans hit the polls in November, they will see a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot asking whether the state should put transportation funding in a "lockbox" so that it cannot be used for non-related spending.
If the amendment passes, the Illinois Constitution would be amended to ensure transportation funding is safeguarded from being spent on other purposes, like balancing the state budget.
Citizens to Protect Transportation Funding, a coalition of business, labor and construction groups, is leading the advocacy effort in support of the so-called "Safe Roads Amendment," which made it onto the November 8 ballot after strong bipartisan approval from the state legislature.
Here's how the amendment will appear on the ballot:
The proposed amendment adds a new section to the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution. The proposed amendment provides that no moneys derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes, relating to registration, titles, operation, or use of vehicles or public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, or airports, or motor fuels, including bond proceeds, shall be expended for other than costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes, including the State or local share to match federal aid highway funds. You are asked to decide whether the proposed amendment should become part of the Illinois Constitution.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is among the groups involved with the pro-amendment coalition.
"The Safe Roads Amendment deserves support for two critical reasons: re-establishing taxpayer trust and keeping our vital transportation system repaired and safe," Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch said in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Chicago Tribune last week.
"For the last 13 years, $6.8 billion has been diverted from the state's Road Fund alone for other spending," he said. "This amendment wouldn't have saved every one of those dollars, but it would have helped prevent Illinois from being on pace to have 1 in every 3 miles of roadway, and 1 in 10 bridges, rated in 'unacceptable' condition."
Just in the last year, over $500 million in transportation funding was diverted from the state's Road Fund for other purposes, according to Citizens to Protect Transportation Funding.
Amendment supporters say the state's transportation infrastructure is in dire straits and Illinois can no longer afford to divert Road Fund dollars that would have otherwise gone toward investments and repairs.
According to the U.S. Transportation Department, 73 percent of Illinois roads are in poor or mediocre condition. Illinois tied with Connecticut for having the highest percentage of roads in bad shape. Additionally, 16 percent of Illinois bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Maisch said 30 states already have constitutional protections on transportation funding. In Illinois, transportation funding is generated through various sources, including local gas taxes and fees for license plates and vehicle registrations.
Marc Poulos, the executive director of the Indiana, Illinois, Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, another Safe Roads Amendment supporter, sees the issue through an economic perspective.
"Investing in transportation infrastructure has both immediate and long-term positive effects on the Illinois economy," he said in a statement. "Construction projects create and sustain employment for Illinois workers. Raiding transportation funding has cost Illinois nearly 5,000 jobs over the last decade, and it's costing the average driver $441 every year in vehicle repairs, as well as wasted time and fuel costs because of congestion on our roads."
Although the amendment has broad support, not everyone is on board.
The Chicago Tribune editorial board is among the amendment's critics, arguing that a transportation funding lockbox would essentially give contractors and unions "constitutionally guaranteed dibs on future billions of state and local revenue dollars."
"That is, they'd have dibs on tax collections so that some future Illinois -- an Illinois where finances are even more disastrous than today's -- couldn't circumvent this amendment even in a natural catastrophe or other crisis," the Trib editorial reads. "This amendment would, for example, wall off road dollars from any emergency uses for basic human needs. You've seen how rigidly the constitution's pension protection clause forbids public pension reforms? Well, the pavement protection clause would be just as rigid."
The newspaper's editorial board urged Illinoisans to vote against the "diabolical" Safe Roads Amendment.
In order to pass, the amendment needs 60 percent support from those voting on the question, or a majority of those casting ballots in the election.