Want good streets? We must protect Illinois road fund



(Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

By Chuck Sweeny | Rockford Register Star, Ill.

Ah, yes. Rod Blagojevich is the governor from 2003 to 2009 whose legacy keeps on taking.

Before his chaotic and irresponsible regime took hold of the state in 2003, governors left the “special funds” alone.

I’ll concede that we have way too many of them, 708 in fact, but they were generally left alone. Blagojevich decided, and lawmakers agreed, that he could take money from these funds at will and use the money for other things.


And it didn’t stop when he was impeached and thrown out of Springfield in 2009. Pat Quinn continued the bad practice when he was governor. And Bruce Rauner has followed suit.

Legislative leaders and the rank-and-file participate in this, too.

To put together the half-year budget that is keeping the government going, lawmakers took $500 million from the transportation fund and switched it to the general fund. Aside from the fact that we need to cut back seriously on the number of special funds, there’s one fund — the transportation fund — that affects everyone in Illinois, every day.

In the past 10 years, more than $6 billion has been swept from the fund and used for other things. This has resulted in a reduction in road improvement, repair and other infrastructure projects.

Instead of 100 state-funded projects underway this summer across Illinois, only 63 can be done, said Steve Nailor of the Rockford, Winnebago County Better Roads Coalition, who stopped in to talk to the Editorial Board today.

The only way to keep our governor’s and legislators’ grubby little hands off the transportation fund is to forbid them from doing it. And so we have a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot that would do just that.

MORE: Can Illinois voters amend their constitution or not?

According to the advocates of the Safe Roads Constitutional Amendment, the measure would prevent money raised through state or local motor fuel taxes, motor vehicle registration or title fees and other user taxes, tolls and fees dedicated to public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit bus and rail, ports or airports from being spent on anything other than transportation purposes.

I admit I’m feeling very cynical about all of this.

See, unlike the Independendent Maps Amendment, in which hundreds of volunteers gathered half a million signatures to put a redistricting amendment on the ballot, there was no popular movement for the fund sweeps amendment.

Rather, the General Assembly put this one on the ballot. Lawmakers passed the amendment in the House, 94-4, and in the Senate, 55-0, so essentially what happened was lawmakers are asking the voters to “stop us from acting irresponsibly because we can’t control ourselves.”

I don’t know whether I should trust the integrity of this amendment or not. The Safe Roads group is made up of people who build and work on roads and who contribute big money to the politicians who authorize the spending of tax dollars on roads.

Truth be told, they’d pave every last inch of Illinois if they could have their way. Their enthusiasm needs to be curbed somewhat. However, we do have legitimate transportation needs, and as transport spending advocates point out, every $1 spent on maintenance saves $3 on reconstruction costs.

I guess that means I’ll probably roll my eyes and vote for the amendment, which, by the way, needs to get 60 percent of the vote to be successful.

While I’m voting I’ll be wondering what tricks our lawmakers will pull next. I’m expecting them to raise Illinois’ 19 cents per gallon motor fuel tax, or to pass a mileage tax, when we’re not paying attention.

Because, you know, they’re all “leading the fight,” as their campaign leaflets tell us.


(c) 2016 Rockford Register Star, Ill.

Visit Rockford Register Star, Ill. at www.rrstar.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.