Read the Fine Print for Road Funding Amendment

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

While legislative redistricting reform will not be on the Illinois ballot on November 8, a late-breaking, under-the-radar amendment to protect the road building revenue stream from encroachment by the General Assembly and Governor made the grade.

The language of the amendment, reads, in part:
“No moneys, including bond proceeds, derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes relating to registration, title, or operation or use of vehicles, or related to the use of highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or to fuels used for propelling vehicles, or derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes relating to any other transportation infrastructure or transportation operation, shall be expended for purposes other than…” transportation infrastructure or mass transit.
Article XIV of the Illinois Constitution permits the General Assembly to pass constitutional amendments by a 3/5 vote of both houses. The amendment is then placed before voters at least six months after this action, and either a majority of voters, or 60% of those weighing in on the amendment, must vote in the affirmative in order to ratify it.

Media coverage to date has been scant, but the Chicago Tribune did publish a front page story on the subject this week, and its editorial board came out against it earlier.

Illinois Public Radio also weighed in on some of the caveats related to the amendment.

As we’ve written previously, it’s important to follow the money in an election cycle awash in it, and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform has done us a great service specific to this transportation funding amendment. It’s fair to say that those standing to benefit from it most, namely road builders and labor unions, are underwriting the public relations campaign making a positive case for ratification.

In all fairness, the amendment polls incredibly well. According to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 80% of likely Illinois voters are supportive of the amendment and only 13% opposed, with 7% undecided.

More than 20 other states have similar constitutional mechanisms in place. However, assuming ratification in Illinois, this arguably further handcuffs the General Assembly and Governor as they return to Springfield for the fall veto session and attempt to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year while also grappling with pension reform.

Here’s hoping that we all do our due diligence with respect to this amendment, and it provides yet another teachable moment in this, the 2016 general election.

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