Endorsement: No on 'Safe Roads' constitutional amendment

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

The desire driving the so-called "Safe Roads" or "Lockbox" constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 Illinois ballot is easy to understand. But for two deficiencies, we could consider supporting it.

But those deficiencies are significant and force us to urge voters to oppose it at the polls Nov. 8. One is the limited scope of the proposal. The issue would embed in the state constitution a spending priority for a single budgetary category -- transportation infrastructure -- requiring that taxes and fees collected for that purpose be restricted to it and it alone. Anyone familiar with the havoc a constitutional provision on public pensions has wreaked on Illinois finances should quickly see the dangers of adding another protected spending classification.

Transportation infrastructure is indeed a high priority for the state, but it's also just one of scores of spending categories that share the complaint against the state's habit of "sweeping" funds supported by special taxes and fees whenever it gets in a financial bind. Sweeping is a shameful practice, not much different from parents breaking open their kids' piggy banks when they can't control their own spending. But, shameful though the reasoning may be, the state gets itself into binds for which current law permits the break-ins. If transportation were exempted from these collections, why should all the other funds remain open to them?

If sweeping is so abhorrent a practice as to warrant constitutional attention, that attention should apply equally to all funds -- a notion we actually could consider on the thinking that if the kids' piggy banks truly were off limits to Mom and Dad, maybe Mom and Dad would manage their spending more realistically.

Which brings us to the second deficiency. We'll acknowledge that adverse circumstances can sometimes put even responsible budgeters in such a bind that they ought to have temporary access to funds within their sphere of influence. But those circumstances should be dire and should demand accountability at the polls for legislators or governors who would seek to use them to snatch funds that voters set aside for a specific purpose.

Responsible states that establish lockboxes for certain funds leave open the option of legislative action in a crisis, so that everyone who would break into them would have to be able to get permission or at least justify the action to voters. This amendment provides no such alternative.

Would that it did. Without it, and without a restriction that applies to the practice of sweeps treating all assigned funds equally, we can't give it our support. We urge a no vote on the Safe Roads Amendment.

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