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*** UPDATED x1 *** Another paper editorializes against the lockbox

Monday, Oct 31, 2016

* The SJ-R editorializes against the proposed lockbox amendment

If this amendment passes, the road funds will go into a “lockbox” and will be untouchable, even in a dire emergency.

It’s like taking a family’s household budget and saying that an important priority — say, saving for your kids’ college funds — would be locked up. Sounds good, until a financial crisis happens and you have no money to put food on the table, right?

Other states that have passed similar measures have provisions to declare a fiscal emergency and access those funds. Illinois’ measure doesn’t. That’s why voters should see big red flags.

Past history shows that once Illinois’ constitution is amended, it’s a highly difficult process to get it changed back. Exhibit A, the state’s efforts to find a way to deal with its skyrocketing pension obligations.

Transportation is an important investment for the state to make. But so is education, both K-12 and higher education. So are social services. So are public safety issues. Will they get their own dedicated funds?

If it wasn’t for all the Republican votes on this thing and the governor’s total silence, I’d be easily convinced this was a clever ploy by Speaker Madigan to lock up state money so that Gov. Rauner can’t use it to fund another patchwork, stopgap budget.

But, the Republicans found themselves in boiling hot water with the road builders last year when the GA and Rauner swept the Road Fund to pass the FY 16 budget “fix.” So, they had some making up to do.

Same thing happened on the Democratic side with the trade unions.

However, I cannot imagine Madigan supporting this hastily crafted proposal (with a ton of unintended consequences) under any other governor.

*** UPDATE ***  The Center for Municipal Finance has a new and unfavorable analysis of the proposal

The proposed constitutional amendment, the Illinois Transportation Taxes and Fees Lockbox Amendment, is highly problematic for several reasons.

    • First, its wording is vague, and as a result its actual impact is unclear. The proposed amendment’s lack of clarity may result in more revenue streams, at both state and local levels of government, than intended being restricted to a limited number of transportation related expenses.

    • Second, the proposed amendment is likely to divert revenue away from other areas of state and local budgets. The Lockbox Amendment would not increase total revenue—rather, it would change how existing revenue is spent.

    • Third, because it is being proposed as a constitutional amendment and not a regular statute, any negative consequences would be extremely difficult to modify or reverse.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

31 Comments
  1. - HRC2016 - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:19 pm:

    Maybe this should have been done years ago with the pension money and we wouldn’t have this problem. No holidays, no ramps, tax for it and keep it in the fund.


  2. - HRC2016 - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:23 pm:

    Transportation is an important investment for the state to make. But so is education, both K-12 and higher education. So are social services. So are public safety issues. Will they get their own dedicated funds?

    Yes, they should.


  3. - Tin foil - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:25 pm:

    I plan on voting “no.”

    But if memory serves me correctly, most editorial boards have a history of criticizing the General Assembly when they sweep special funds. Here’s a measure to stop it from happening and they’re against that, too?


  4. - Ahoy! - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:27 pm:

    I think this was a terrible editorial by the SJ-R. I know it’s popular to compare the state budget to a family budget, but they are not that comparable, unless you want to use a comparison of a compulsive gambler who can not be trusted with the cash to pay the mortgage/rent, so you set up a special account so that person doesn’t loose their shelter.

    Also, what state emergency is going to happen that is not going to require infrastructure and transportation?


  5. - Not It - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:27 pm:

    Rich, I’m going to disagree with you a bit. I think the Speaker probably realizes that by cutting off this money for genreral state spending, he has put even more pressure on the GOP to accept their fate: they have to eventually help pass a tax increase.


  6. - DuPage - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:32 pm:

    It would be good if we did not need the lockbox, but otherwise it will be “swept” again and again.


  7. - Grandpa - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:34 pm:

    My money is on it passing bigtime, then let’s see what happens this spring with no budget.


  8. - Captain Illini - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:39 pm:

    It’s a terribly crafted bill with unintended consequences - only because of the lack of leadership in dealing with budget issues period. There is no doubt more “fixes” will be necessary if they construct this Pandora’s box and find not only can’t they open it, but there is no hinge.

    Vote NO, and demand accountability of our elected officials.


  9. - RNUG - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:41 pm:

    It’s probably going to pass because the voters no longer trust the GA and Governor to do the right thing. It’s a outsider year and lots of voter backlash / kickback.

    If it does pass, sooner or later, you will see the voters clamoring for similar protection for schools, then possibly other categories. Voters don’t realize the end result will be a bunch of specialized income tax assignments and surcharges. But the upside is it will eventually back the politicians so far into a corner that they will be left with no other choice than raising taxes (not that we aren’t close to there now but some people are refusing to recognize it).


  10. - Team Sleep - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:49 pm:

    This will pass. Think about the turnout we might see. Given that - and given that people may not thoroughly read through the proposal during a trip to the polling place - this may easily clear 75%.


  11. - Just Observing - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:50 pm:

    Despite all the newspapers and good government groups advocating against the referendum, I voted yes. And I am one to despise “easy fixes” and gimmicks. But I also hate taxes and fees being passed under a certain premise (e.g. user fees on drivers to fund transportation expenses) and the money slowly but surely diverted elsewhere. Isn’t that what are income and sales taxes are for — general funding? And we are supposed to be concerned legislators will lose their flexibility in spending? Good.


  12. - phocion - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:52 pm:

    Last time I checked my property tax bill, I saw that schools already have a lockbox source of funding. On the state level, transportation is funded by user fees - schools are not. Don’t know how you’d lockbox education funding when there isn’t a user fee in place for it. To the post, SJ-R editorial misses the point, and buys into the same drivel other editorials have to say about this measure. No “emergency” has ever happened that created the need to steal from the road fund except for dishonest and lazy budgeting in Springfield. Give the Democrats and Republicans credit for allowing the people to actually have a voice here. There’s a lot of anger out there.


  13. - Rich Miller - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:54 pm:

    ===No “emergency” has ever happened that created the need to steal from the road fund===

    Um, did you miss last year?


  14. - phocion - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 2:00 pm:

    Rich, last year was an “emergency” that the politicians created (Hint: they passed a budget that included the income tax increase that went away halfway through the fiscal year. That aint an emergency, that’s budgetary malpractice). The anti-lockbox crowd is talking about some natural disaster, terrorist attack or the next Great Depression.


  15. - walker - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 2:05 pm:

    Argue for and against some lockbox type mechanism. Argue for road funding. Wave your arms in righteous anger.

    None of that comes close to justifying a Constitutional Amendment, that is a (usually) permanent change to the structure and function of government. Bad idea!

    This is the most disappointing thing I have seen Madigan do in over a decade. That both parties support it is no excuse. Madigan has often been a bulwark against such popular, but destructive nonsense in the past.


  16. - RNUG - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 2:06 pm:

    == Don’t know how you’d lockbox education funding when there isn’t a user fee in place for it. ==

    I envision something modifying the income tax to say that, for argument’s sake, 0.75% of the current 3.75% be locked up for school funding.


  17. - hisgirlfriday - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 2:08 pm:

    Anyone who early voted on the first day it was available voted on this more than a month ago.

    If newspaper editorial boards want to provide meaningful benefit to the public with their thoughts on stuff like this then they need to give opinions way earlier.


  18. - Team Sleep - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 2:36 pm:

    Friday - some of them have. The suburban newspapers started rolling out their endorsements in late September or early October. But you are correct that a lot of papers wait way too long.


  19. - Sir Reel - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 3:14 pm:

    Illinois seems to be in a state of perpetual “emergency.” It’ll pass, for better or worse.


  20. - Shemp - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 3:18 pm:

    The State audits local governments to make sure MFT funds don’t get spent anywhere else, emergency or not. What’s good for the goose….

    I get the “what ifs,” but the road funds aren’t the majority of the budget. The State can always choose to find more revenue unlike a family. And if you want to compare it to a family, maybe it should be more like the State is a child that has proven it can’t handle its allowance or a kid that can’t handle his/her first credit card.

    The opposition makes great arguments that in normal times I would buy, but I have become so disheartened and skeptical of our State that I will be voting in favor.


  21. - From the 'Dale to HP - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 3:25 pm:

    My guess is if it passes, it will lead to most communities/towns/cities/villages/etc to raise property taxes to cover the loss in revenue.


  22. - RetiredIDOT - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 4:26 pm:

    I had planned to vote for the amendment until I was told that this amendment actually will make it easier for transfers and sweeps. IDOT has taken a “Neutral” position on this. I’m voting NO


  23. - Anonymous - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 4:32 pm:

    “• Third, because it is being proposed as a constitutional amendment and not a regular statute, any negative consequences would be extremely difficult to modify or reverse”

    This is the Big Red Flag that tells me NOT to support this amendment.


  24. - Mama - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 4:37 pm:

    - Anonymous - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 4:32 pm: -

    That was me. For some reason my pen name keeps disappearing.


  25. - Cassandra - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 4:58 pm:

    Yes, agree with RNUG. The perception that Illinois’ political class (both parties, I would emphasize) is completely inept, or worse, leads to these kinds of maneuvers to reduce elected officials’ discretion. Helps a lot of contractors too, and I’m sure they are big political contributors. .

    Unfortunately, this proposal, if it passes, will make it even more likely that the state’s politicians will either have to make unwanted cuts or raise taxes even more than already seems likely.


  26. - Anonymous - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 5:13 pm:

    The proposed lockbox amendment is what it will take to make sure that transportation funds are spent for transportation.
    I agree with @1:41pm that the voters no longer trust the GA and Governor to do the right thing.


  27. - Road Kill - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 5:16 pm:

    Motor Fuel Taxes are “Trust Taxes” you trust the retailers who collect them to pay them to the state.You also trust that the state will spend the money on its trusted intended purpose, building and repairing Illinois’Transportation System that is not happening.Billions of motor fuel taxes dollars are being spent on non-transportation projects.We cannot trust the General Assembly so we need to control them, and the only way to do that is to pass this amendment.Thank you for reading.


  28. - Not It - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 5:44 pm:

    To those arguing we don’t lock box education funding, I would point out to you the majority of our state’s education funding is raised through property taxes that go directly to schools, /9 we sort of do lock box those dollars as schools can’t just divert it to another non-education expense.


  29. - Arock - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 7:14 pm:

    In a perfect world this would be great, but Illinois is far from it. This designed to pay back contractors and unions for their political support.


  30. - Just Me - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 7:20 pm:

    If this passes, then I predict that 10 years from now Illinois will be a national leader for infrastructure and this amendment will be explained as the reason why, and as a state we’ll sort of be proud of finally being the first in the nation for something instead of last.


  31. - Late to the Party - Tuesday, Nov 1, 16 @ 9:45 am:

    The constitution should be used for specific purposes. Road fund money should be singled out in this amendment. Perhaps I could support this if the amendment was more broad (or general) such as saying no funds at all can be swept from their intended purpose.

    We should not use the constitution when a law would suffice.


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