CHICAGO -- Next month, voters will decide whether to change the Illinois constitution to help guarantee funding for transportation projects.
It’s the only proposed constitutional amendment up for approval, and it’s to be the very first thing on the ballot, right before the presidential race.
Sometimes referred to as the “Safe Roads Amendment” or the “Lockbox Amendment,” it says that money collected for transportation infrastructure, like the gas tax or driver’s license and registration fees would, be put in a “lockbox” and could only be spent on those infrastructure projects.
Calling itself Citizens to Protect Transportation Funding, a coalition of businesses and labor unions poured in more than $1 million into ads over the last month calling for voters to say “yes” to the “Safe Roads Amendment.” You’ve probably seen or heard them by now.
At a construction site on I-55 and Lake Shore Drive the need is evident. We saw deteriorating concrete and exposed and rusted Rebar on both the inbound and outbound ramps. This interchange is currently being fixed, but there are many more spots in need of repair.
“In the state of Illinois, roughly half of the roads are in poor condition,” said Marc Poulos of the Indiana, Illinois & Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting. “Society of Civil engineers has given the state a D- rating on their roads, bridges, and mass transit.”
Poulos and the coalition over the last decade the state has taken more than $6.8 billion dollars from the road fund.
“We can’t keep robbing Peter to pay Paul in the state of Illinois,” Poulos said. “We have to protect these road fund dollars and mass transit dollars that the motoring public needs every day to get to school and get to work.”
The lockbox or Safe Roads Amendment would ensure that transportation dollars would be spent on transportation infrastructure, and not diverted to cover other shortfalls in the budget.
It has strong bipartisan support. In fact, only four state legislators voted against putting the proposal on the ballot, including Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago (25th District).
“That’s not what constitutions are supposed to do,” Rep. Currie said. “They’re supposed to set important priorities, but are also supposed to be flexible so lawmakers can do what needs to be done as it needs doing.”
“If we had a natural disaster, if suddenly we needed to fund public education, this money is sitting over there and we can’t use it except for roads,” Rep. Currie said.
Both the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune editorial boards are also urging people to vote no.
“This is one of the great Illinois scams; We call this the Illinois crony protection amendment of 2016,” said John McCormick, Chicago Tribune Editorial Page Editor.
“This is gonna be an amendment saying, ‘for this one industry, from which we politicians draw huge contributions - road builders, unions, construction unions - we get a lot of money from these folks, so we’re gonna lock in their funding forever,” McCormick said.
Supporters say the state is in an “infrastructure crisis” and the lockbox is necessary for safe roads and rails.
“With the current political climate that we’re in, the problem that we have is that we don’t see a path towards increased transportation funding,” Poulos said. “So we’re in the mode right now of protect what you have.”
When you head into the booth to vote on November 8, this proposed amendment is the first thing you’ll see on your ballot, and you can decide yes or no just before making your pick for the next President of the United States.
The proposed amendment needs 60 percent approval from people voting on the question in order to pass and become part of the Illinois Constitution.