Springfield must keep its promise on infrastructure

Deferring the annual adjustment in the motor fuel tax would be repeating the mistakes of the past — exactly what the Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan was designed to avoid.

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Reaching a bipartisan agreement on just about anything is nearly impossible nowadays. But in 2019, a near-miracle happened in Springfield: Bipartisan majorities in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly approved the Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan.

Championed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Rebuild Illinois was the state’s first capital program in nearly a decade, dedicating $45 billion in investments to repair, improve, and modernize our state’s physical infrastructure. This historic legislation was a promise made by our leaders to the people of Illinois to rebuild our state. 

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With talk swirling in the halls of the Capitol about deferring the state’s automatic increase of the motor fuel tax this year, our leaders ought to be reminded of how important this promise is to the people of Illinois. They also should be urged to continue on the path of rebuilding our state.

Backlogged projects, deferred maintenance

The Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan was so historic because for many years, the state had chosen to divert funds intended for new construction and the maintenance of existing roads and bridges. Rather than sustain and expand our state’s physical infrastructure, leader after leader and general assembly after general assembly instead funneled these funds to other projects and priorities that had nothing to do with roads and bridges. Further, they allowed revenue from gas taxes to fall far short of its intended match to inflation.

These policy decisions produced massive backlogs in the state’s list of high priority infrastructure projects and created thousands of deferred maintenance tasks. The result? An aging infrastructure network that will cost the state billions more to upgrade and cause commuters to lose time with their families and money due to increased vehicle maintenance and fuel costs.

To prevent Illinois’ infrastructure from again meeting this fate or worse, our state’s leaders wisely aligned the revenues from the motor fuel tax dedicated for infrastructure projects with the annual, gradual increase in the cost of living. The implementation of this effective adjustment made funding for critical improvements sustainable over time and allowed for the repair and modernization of our infrastructure to continue unabated for years into the future.

While the cost of the annual motor fuel tax adjustment is barely noticeable to consumers — adding up to just cents per full tank fill-up — it is critical to maintaining the state’s Rebuild Illinois Capital Program. The current proposal to defer the annual adjustment in the motor fuel tax will cost the state over $500 million. That’s half a billion dollars that would otherwise be spent ensuring our roads and bridges are safe over the next five years. 

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Without this annual adjustment to the motor fuel tax, Illinois will once again fall behind on its infrastructure needs. For high-priority projects, work will be delayed, and construction will be slowed. For commuters, time spent sitting in traffic and the size of potholes will grow.

Deferring the annual adjustment in the motor fuel tax would be repeating the mistakes of the past — exactly what the Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan was designed to avoid. Our leaders in Springfield should do what is necessary to keep their promise to Illinoisans by continuing to prioritize rebuilding our state.

Kevin Artl is the president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois.

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