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Taxes levied to repair roads must really be used to repair roads

Keller Williams branded lockbox by MFS Supply. (PRNewsFoto/MFS Supply)

On Election Day, Illinois voters will see a proposal on their ballots to amend the state’s constitution to create a “lock box,” which will prohibit legislators and the governor from using money collected specifically to improve our roads and public transportation to plug state budget gaps.

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.”

It’s no wonder Illinois’ roads and transit systems are deteriorating faster than we can repair them. Research by the Metropolitan Planning Council shows very clearly that Illinois needs to raise and spend $43 billion over the next 10 years to get our roads, bridges and transit systems back to a good state of repair.

Though the need is dire, we cannot in good faith advocate for such expenditures unless the public can be assured that the funds will go to the intended purpose. Much to their credit, the House and Senate this year, by overwhelming majorities, passed the lock box amendment, which would write that assurance into our state’s constitution.

Yes, trust in our elected officials should be a matter of course. But it’s also true that history is a great teacher. What’s at stake in November is re-establishing the public’s trust in lawmakers that they will actually use the fees we all pay to maintain and expand our transportation system for that purpose. In November, it is up to all of us as citizens to ratify that amendment.

James R. Reilly

Senior Fellow

Metropolitan Planning Council

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

A Sun-Times editorial argues that “a lockbox is nothing but an admission of failure.” This may be the understatement of the century. “Failure,” in this case, is a euphemism for deceit, misfeasance and malfeasance.

Bureaucrats have fooled the public into passing taxes for one purpose and then failed to use them as promised. Examples:

* The lottery was approved to fund schools, but the state Legislature took Lottery money out the back door and away from schools.

* Fuel taxes intended for an environmental cleanup fund are diverted for other uses.

* Federal “highway trust funds,” supported by motor fuel taxes, have been diverted to non-highway projects, even as roads and bridges crumble.

Why would you urge the state Legislature to vote down the “lockbox” bill that would require taxes passed for a certain purpose to fund that purpose? Not using the lockbox concept is a license to continue to fail to use funds as promised.Earl Weiss, Skokie