Does Illinois' gas tax money belong in 'lockbox'?

  • A Nov. 8 referendum asks if we should put transportation funds, such as gas taxes, in a "lockbox." Supporters say it will prevent revenues intended to fix roads from being diverted, but opponents suggest more groups will attempt to restrict other funds.

    A Nov. 8 referendum asks if we should put transportation funds, such as gas taxes, in a "lockbox." Supporters say it will prevent revenues intended to fix roads from being diverted, but opponents suggest more groups will attempt to restrict other funds. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 10/31/2016 11:16 AM

One of the least-talked-about choices on your Nov. 8 ballot would make history if passed.

A binding referendum proposal would amend the state Constitution by putting transportation taxes and fees into a "lockbox." If approved, the change would prevent lawmakers from dipping into the transportation kitty for other uses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Using gas taxes to cobble together state budgets has diverted $6.8 billion from the road fund and left the region pockmarked with potholes, construction industry supporters say.

It's a persuasive argument and one that passed the General Assembly easily.

So far, road builders have poured $3.7 million into the "Safe Roads Amendment" campaign, paying for ads warning "it's not a matter of if disaster will strike, but when.

But a few lawmakers aren't convinced.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a longtime advocate for transportation causes, thinks the measure will tie legislators' hands, putting roads above other priorities, such as education.

"When I talk about it with people, the vast majority understand my point of view and seem persuaded. But generally the only thing they hear about the issue is the commercials," said Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat.

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Michael Sturino, Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association president, makes "no apologies" for the ads.

"It's part of our First Amendment right to express our view. If you think everything is going great in Springfield -- certainly vote 'no,'" he said.

When drivers pay gas taxes designated for transportation, those funds should go to transportation, Republican Sen. Karen McConnaughay of St. Charles thinks. "If you tax me for something and tell me it will be diverted, I have a problem with it," she said.

But Nekritz warns, if the measure passes, "I think every other group will come to the legislature looking for their own lockbox. The Illinois Education Association is supporting this because, as I am told, they will be next in line."

Your voice

Readers weren't shy with comments on the lockbox question.

Although referendum backers guarantee that transit is included, reverse commuter Richard A. Stewart doesn't believe it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Transit would continue to be funded way below sustainable levels, and we would continue to have minimal transit in the city, no or almost no transit in the suburbs, and public subsidies and private incentives for sprawl," said Stewart, who lives in Chicago and commutes to Wheeling and Buffalo Grove. "I am suspicious of using constitutional amendments to attend to the details that informed voters and responsible legislators and officials should be looking after."

Dirk Christiansen of Schaumburg wondered, "Do we really need a referendum to the constitution on this? Although this issue just seems like common sense to me, I guess a written directive to come in out of the rain is probably in order."

Chris Ellis of Palatine asked, "If we can't trust state legislators (and they signal they can't trust themselves) to do their jobs conscientiously and fairly, why do we have a state legislature?"

Got an opinion? Drop me an email at mpyke@dailyherald.com.

Upcoming

Hearings on Metra's budget plan, which includes a fare hike, start soon. You can endorse or vent from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at: Arlington Heights' village hall, 33 S. Arlington Heights Road; Clarendon Hills' village hall, 1 N. Prospect Ave.; Mundelein's village hall, 300 Plaza Circle; and Metra's offices, 547 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago. Hearings at the same time Thursday are at: Kane County Government Center, Building A, 719 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva; and Crystal Lake's city hall, 100 W. Woodstock St.

Gridlock alert

Expect delays on the Stevenson Expressway between Weber and Willow Springs roads for resurfacing with some nightly and weekend lane closures through fall 2017.

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Frightening reality

State and local police will be out in full force checking for impaired Halloween revelers tonight through early Tuesday. Don't forget to take transit, taxis or ride-hailing alternates if you're drinking. Fatalities from vehicle crashes are up by 9 percent this year in Illinois, standing at 879.

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