DALLAS — Almost $2 billion of Illinois road projects and 25,000 construction jobs are at risk from the state budget dispute between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, according to a coalition of Illinois business groups and labor unions.
Leaders of the Transportation for Illinois Coalition said Thursday that the state highway department would have to pull the plug on new and proposed road projects by the start of the coming fiscal year on July 1 unless Rauner and lawmakers agree on a state budget or devise some form of stopgap funding by then.
"The budget impasse has really put all sorts of funding at risk, but transportation is unique in that we are very time sensitive even more so I would say than education," said Todd Maisch, CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and co-chairman of the coalition. "If you don't fund transportation on a timely basis, you risk losing an entire construction season."
Major investments in the state's transportation infrastructure are needed, Maisch said.
"We need a [multiyear] capital bill," he said. "In the meantime, while the budget impasse is going, we just want to make sure the legislature and the governor are focused on not losing an entire construction season."
Highway contractors cannot execute contracts for fiscal 2017 unless there is funding in place, said Bill Frey, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Illinois.
That includes $1.8 billion of work remaining on fiscal 2016 contracts that needs re-appropriating after July 1, he said.
"The funding is there, it's the appropriation that's lacking," Frey said. "The motor fuel taxes have been paid, the federal government has the money for Illinois. The appropriation is what needs to be passed to keep these jobs going."
The $302 billion of federal funding provided by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act includes $7.5 billion for Illinois through 2020. The state's annual allocations total $1.44 billion in fiscal 2016 and $1.47 billion in fiscal 2017.
Fully funded transportation projects are included in Rauner's proposed interim budget, said spokeswoman Catherine Kelly.
"The governor understands the importance road construction projects have on both public safety and the local economy," Kelly said.
There are no plans at this time to halt highway work, said Illinois DOT spokeswoman Gianna Urgo.
"In the absence of a balanced budget, we need legislators to support the proposed stopgap budget to fully fund our road construction projects," Urgo said.
The 2016 legislative session ended at midnight May 31 without approving a state budget for the second year in a row.
Rauscher asked Democrats in the General Assembly to support his proposed curbs on local unions and reforms to the workers compensation system in exchange for tax increases needed to close a budget deficit of up to $5 billion.
Democrats balked at what they saw as the governor's pro-business, anti-labor proposals and wanted to consider the budget separately.
Moody's Investors Service cited the budget impasse as it dropped the state's general obligation bonds to Baa2 from Baa1 on June 8. S&P Global Ratings followed, lowering the state to BBB-plus from A-minus. Both assigned negative outlooks.
Fitch Ratings downgraded Illinois to BBB-plus from A-minus in October, and recently placed it on negative watch.