Illinois Voters to Decide on Transportation Trust Fund in November

Instead of voting on new taxes to reduce transportation revenue shortfalls, Illinois voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to ensure that transportation fees and taxes are only spent on roads and transit, the so-called "lockbox" measure.
May 11, 2016, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Unable or unwilling to raise the 31 cent gas tax [per API], not raised since 1991, Illinois legislators passed "common sense" legislation, in the words of Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, one of the many sponsors of HJRCA 36. While it does nothing to increase transportation revenues, it creates a virtual trust fund or budget "lock-box," like those found in many other states and the federal government, to ensure that transportation user fee and tax revenues are spent only on transportation-related purposes.

"The effort comes as Illinois' infrastructure wish list continues to grow, but money earmarked for transportation projects is routinely diverted to fill other budget holes," writes Monique Garciastate government and political reporter for the Chicago Tribune. "While some advocacy groups have called for a gas tax increase, raising taxes is politically unpopular during an election year."

Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, called for a 30-cent gas tax and vehicle registration fee increases in a new report posted here last month. MPC Senior Fellow James R. Reilly urges a "yes" vote on the lockbox measure.

History suggests voters would be wise to approve this amendment. Time and again, particularly in years when state revenues have been tight, the General Assembly has dipped into what’s known as “the road fund.”

Unlike more road-oriented transportation constitutional amendments, such as California's Article XIX, far more transportation purposes are allowed under Constitutional Amendment 36 according to Garcia.

[Lockbox] money could then only be spent on road construction and repair, enforcing traffic laws, paying off debt on transit projects and even costs associated with workers injured on the job. The change would not apply to state and local sales taxes that often are added on top of the gas tax motorists pay at the pump.

Garcia notes that the lockbox could remove one obstacle to the passage of a potential future gas tax hike — that transportation revenue would be used as intended rather than diverted to more pressing budgetary needs. However, as noted countless times by Planetizen, the norm is for General Fund money to be diverted to transportation projects, not vice-versa.

As posted here last month, the Prairie State is also considering implementing a vehicle mile traveled fee program to deal with the transportation shortfall.

Amendment 36 would be "the only legislatively-approved amendment voters will get a chance to weigh in on this fall," adds Garcia.

The measure appears in Ballotpedia. "If you know of any opposition to this measure, please contact ballotmeasures@ballotpedia.org," notes the listing.

Hat tip to The AASHTO Daily Transportation Update.

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Published on Tuesday, May 10, 2016 in Chicago Tribune
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