CHICAGO – A new coalition of labor and business is hoping to persuade Illinois voters to support a constitutional amendment that would halt the diversion of transportation-related revenue.
The group – Citizens to Protect Transportation Funding – said it has raised $1.2 million for its campaign to convince voters the lockbox mechanism is needed to protect the state's transportation infrastructure.
The group has launched a website at http://www.saferoadsamendment.com/ as part of its outreach efforts. State lawmakers approved placing the "Safe Roads" measure on the Nov. 8 ballot in May. It needs to be approved by a majority of those voting in the election.
The state has diverted more than $6.8 billion of revenue from the state's road fund over the last 12 years, including $500 million last year, a study from the advocacy group Transportation for Illinois Coalition found. A portion of gasoline taxes and a portion of vehicle related license and registration fees flow to the fund. If the measure is approved, the road fund revenues could only be used to fund roads, bridges, intercity rail, public transit, and airports.
"Investing in transportation infrastructure has both immediate and long-term positive effects on the Illinois economy," said coalition member Marc Poulos, executive director of the Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting.
"Our coalition is running the campaign these three months leading into the Nov. 8 election to clearly explain how a lack of transportation funding has put our safety and economy in jeopardy, and why an easy solution is to support this amendment to put these funds in a lockbox," said Todd Maisch, co-chair of the coalition and president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
Illinois recently adopted a six-year, $11.2 billion highway improvement plan that officials have warned won't be enough to stop the decline of its transportation infrastructure. Funding in the six-year plan is $2.8 billion more than the 2015 version, but almost $13 billion less than the six-year transportation program adopted in 2010.
The inventory of state roads in good or acceptable condition is expected to fall from the current 79% to only 61% by the end of fiscal 2022 at current funding levels. Chicago's Metropolitan Planning Council estimated in April that the state needs $43 billion of additional transportation funding over the next 10 years to eliminate a maintenance backlog and restore highways and bridges to good condition.
Transportation funding has suffered as the state's $31 billion capital program winds down and lawmakers have made little headway on establishing a new one along with revenues increases needed to support it.
The transportation lockbox measure will be the first question appearing on the ballot.
It's the only constitutional amendment being voted in November. House Speaker Michael Madigan's proposal to ask voters to establish an income tax surcharge on top earners failed to clear the legislature.
Several other referendums with political ramifications also didn't make the ballot. Former Gov. Pat Quinn dropped his effort last month to get a question establishing mayoral term limits on the ballot because he fell short of needed signatures. He will resurrect the effort in 2018.
A state judge last month threw out a question that would have asked voters whether an independent commission should draw legislative districts, concluding that the proposal didn't meet constitutional requirements.
Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, is pushing for redistricting reforms and term limits as part of his "turnaround agenda." Democrats who control the General Assembly oppose many agenda items, and the dispute has driven the impasse that left Illinois without budgets during fiscal 2016 and with only a stopgap plan in place for the current year.