On November 8, Illinois voters will be asked to vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution:
“The proposed amendment adds a new section to the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution. The proposed amendment provides that no moneys derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes, relating to registration, titles, operation, or use of vehicles or public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, or airports, or motor fuels, including bond proceeds, shall be expended for other than costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes, including the State or local share to match federal aid highway funds. You are asked to decide whether the proposed amendment should become part of the Illinois Constitution.”
Translation: The proposed amendment would create a “lock box” that would ensure that funds raised for transportation (tolls, taxes, etc.) are used only for transportation purposes and could not be used for any other reason.
I know exactly what you’re thinking. I know it because I thought the same thing.
“Sounds like common sense! OF COURSE transportation funds should be used for transportation. That’s a no-brainer!”
Welcome to politics, where it’s less about what you say and more about what you DON’T say, folks.
When looking at an amendment like this, it helps to put it into greater context. Illinois still hasn’t passed a State budget to fund services that are critical to people like education and healthcare. Because of the inability to do so, the sustainability of those services comes into jeopardy and emergency funds are needed to keep them operating.
So the next logical step may be to set up lock boxes for those services, so that they can have funds used for them as well, right?
In theory, that makes sense. Where that kind of logic falls apart is when one realizes that certain budget items have big influences behind them. In this case there are unions that want to make sure that they maintain their funding and they have the clout to make sure that they are not only holding on to those funds, but also receiving a substantial amount needed. They do this by applying pressure to politicians who work to appropriate funding. That is their right and it is understandable.
The problem arises in the fact that for services like education, their isn’t a similar force that can apply pressure because schools, by their very nature, aren’t based on profit. Therefore there is less power to influence politicians and less money provided. So while a transportation lock box may be robust with funding, the education lock box would be nearly empty in comparison.
When I tried to make the analogy of comparing the State budget to my budget as a family provider, a friend of mine said that I shouldn’t compare them because they weren’t the same.
He was right in that there are more complexities in a budget for a State, but I respectfully argue that in general, the comparison is valid, so I’ll make it now.
Let’s say I have a very organized and tight budget, where I make sure I cover rent, food, utilities, and other expenditures. In that budget, I have money allotted every month for car upkeep (oil changes, detailing, maintenance, etc.). I make sure that I designate those funds specifically for car maintenance. I keep those funds in a lock box so that there is no way I can access them unless I need them for car maintenance. Then, after a particularly stormy day, I walk down the street, slip and land on my tailbone.
I head to the ER, due to the excruciating pain i find myself in after the fall. Because my budget was so tight, I didn’t have any extra funds to cover a visit to the ER, a chiropractor, or pain meds. Due to the fact that I can’t touch the car maintenance fund since it’s in the lock box, I can’t afford to go to the ER, see a chiropractor or get any medication. That, in turn, prevents me from working, which keeps me from earning more money.
Due to the lack of flexibility with my budget, I am in a worse predicament than i needed to be. Similarly, voting yes on this amendment would prevent the flexibility needed to address any emergencies that may arise.
In an ideal world where everything is funded adequately, catastrophes never occur, and politicians don’t have special interests that influence their ability to craft and pass a budget, establishing lock boxes or some other mechanism to designate where funding goes would make sense. In the real world where catastrophes do happen and certain services are not adequately funded, it would pose a much larger problem to have an amendment that prevents the access of other funds in cases of extreme need.
A NO vote is a vote allowing the flexibility needed to manage revenue in a crisis.
This amendment, when put into its proper context, is about way more than paying for potholes and in the long run might leave us with the bill for way more than that.
Don’t take my word for it.
Here are some helpful links that address the unintended consequences of this proposed amendment: