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High-speed rail advocates call Pritzker capital bill “retrograde”

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

* A Midwest High Speed Rail Association blast e-mail to supporters…

Tell Gov. Pritzker the capital bill needs more trains and transit!

Springfield is debating the capital bill right now.

Several weeks ago, Illinois Senator Martin Sandoval introduced legislation for a major transportation package that could lead to more trains around Illinois and the Midwest by significantly rethinking the way the state funds and selects projects.

Last week, Governor Pritzker released his own proposal for a “capital bill,” but it lacks some of the critical advantages of Sen. Sandoval’s proposal, and instead opts for “business as usual.”

Please click here to send a message to the Governor

Sen. Sandoval’s proposal includes the creation of a sustainable, dedicated fund for transit that sets aside money every year for things like track upgrades for better Metra and Amtrak service. Knowing that these funds would be available into the future would make it easier to plan and execute the sort of large-scale, transformational projects we need to bring high-speed rail to the Midwest.

Gov. Pritzker’s proposal only contains a few one-time allocations for certain transit projects, leaving trains and transit to an uncertain future of relying on one-off legislative appropriations. A good solution would be to dedicate 30% or more of new state transportation revenue to trains and transit.

Sen. Sandoval’s proposal also included a requirement that major projects be evaluated and prioritized based on a broad range of data-driven, measurable factors like environmental impact, economic development, and safety. This would make it much easier for trains to compete with traditional highway projects, but Gov. Pritzker’s proposal lacks this forward-thinking requirement.

Finally, Sen. Sandoval’s proposal indexes the gas tax and other transportation user fees to inflation, ensuring these revenue sources do not effectively degrade over time as they do today. Gov. Pritzker’s proposal does not index to inflation, meaning the state will find itself back in the same funding squeeze ten or so years from now.

Illinois has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make it easier to get around and significantly reduce our carbon impact by setting a transportation policy that favors investing in trains and transit. Instead, the Pritzker administration is pushing a retrograde approach that would only further entrench Illinois and the Midwest’s reliance on cars and highways.

We’ve made it easy to send a message to Gov. Pritzker. Time is running out on Illinois’ legislative session, so act now!

* Meanwhile, here’s Kristen McQueary

Nearly two years ago, voters in Cook County rebelled against taxation. It was a rare galvanization.

Overtax our income, we’ll shrug. Overtax our property, we’ll acquiesce. But add 68 pennies to a bottle of soda and you’ve unleashed a “Game of Thrones”-style Battle of Winterfell, a thousand Arya Starks with dragonglass daggers and steely eyes.

R.I.P., soda tax of 2017. Even Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle realized she would have to pry bottles of Mountain Dew from Cook County taxpayers’ cold dead hands before they would back down.

And yet, where is the swell of opposition to broader, deeper, more impactful taxation? Gov. J.B. Pritzker, now in the final, frenzied days of the spring legislative session, is pushing a $41.5 billion bricks-and-mortar capital program that would hike taxes on top of the tax hikes in his budget proposal. Remember that columnist a few weeks ago who advised taxpayers to guard their wallets? Yes, that was me. I told you so. […]

The state of Illinois — we taxpayers — are still paying for projects built in the mid-1980s through bond programs. We’re still paying for former Gov. George Ryan’s “Illinois FIRST” program, for pension bonds sold during the last 15 years to make ends meet, for former Gov. Pat Quinn’s infrastructure bill. We still can’t pay vendors on time for services they perform for the state, and we are paying off bonds we bought to cover those day-to-day costs. But what the heck. Let’s see how much more debt we can accumulate.

The need for the pop tax and the use of its revenues were never adequately defined by Preckwinkle. Capital projects cost money, and this isn’t Washington, DC where we can just borrow without worrying about ever paying it back. You want your road fixed? Pay up.

With that being said, I’m not loving the idea of borrowing money for 20 years for infrastructure repairs that won’t last as long as the bond payments. What the governor has proposed is six years of projects financed with bonding and tax hikes that will last much longer than the construction. I’d personally be more comfortable with more pay-go.

…Adding… The late Chuck Sweeny’s final column was a lament that no projects for his beloved Rockford were listed in the governor’s capital plan outline

I’m surprised — but maybe I shouldn’t be — that Gov. JB Pritzker’s $41.5 billion, six-year capital spending plan listed no transportation projects for the greater Rockford area west to the Mississippi River. […]

Now these aren’t the only northern Illinois projects that will be funded should the governor’s plan pass, but I sure would have liked to see the greater Rockford area included in the initial plan he released Friday.

I am hopeful that the $14.7 million the state owes the Chicago Rockford International Airport for the state’s share of funding for the $41 million AAR maintenance, repair and overhaul hangars will come through should this plan pass.

Once again, Quinn promised the money in 2014; Rauner put it on hold in 2015 when he and the General Assembly couldn’t agree on a budget for two years. To get the hangars built on time and on budget, the airport took out a $17 million line of credit from five local banks in 2015 and is paying $80,000 a month in interest.

The governor’s plan provides $70 million for “aeronautics.”

* Related…

* Northern Illinois leaders write letter to Gov. Pritzker asking for support at Rockford Airport

* Tax on Beer and Internet Streaming Proposed

* BGA: Lawmakers should seek reasonable registration bump for electric vehicles

* Gov. Pritzker’s capital plan proposes $57M for Route 47 in McHenry County

- Posted by Rich Miller        

32 Comments
  1. - @misterjayem - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 9:55 am:

    “The need for the pop tax and the use of its revenues were never adequately defined by Preckwinkle.”

    Exactly.

    McQueary’s “rebellion” was as much about transparency as it was about taxes.

    – MrJM


  2. - Anonymous - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:01 am:

    “Arya Starks with dragonglass daggers”

    I believe Arya’s dagger was Valeryian Steel


  3. - Honeybear - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:01 am:

    “where is the swell of opposition to broader, deeper, more impactful taxation?”

    Because deep down
    Some more than others
    the wealthy and privileged
    have been blessed by huge income inequality
    realize
    that they should
    and can
    pay more
    for the greater good.


  4. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:03 am:

    Bonds provide all the money upfront so projects can start and be completed more quickly. The value and benefits associated with the projects can be achieved earlier than on a pay-as-you-go-basis.

    You have to prime the pump with some very hefty user fees or taxes to generate the revenue to complete major capital projects on a pay-as-you-go basis.


  5. - Annonin' - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:09 am:

    Seems like there is a need to note Katrina and McSweeney as just mooches with a lot of fancy words. Not surprised Katrina bungled the GoT analogy.


  6. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:09 am:

    ===We still can’t pay vendors on time for services they perform for the state, and we are paying off bonds we bought to cover those day-to-day costs.===

    Oh “StatehouseChick”, LOL

    When Bruce Rauner simply refused to pay vendors, and not have a budget to do so as an excuse… you were tweetin’ away about Sox games, silly lil tweets to Kass and “The Chicago Way, you know, (hashtag) first world problems.

    The last person to be concerned is the self anointed “State. House. Chick.”

    @StatehouseChick isn’t wrong, but her blinded partisanship and ivory tower mentality only seems to be stirred if the spin can be towards Dems, or the likes of GHR… but not Bruce Rauner and the real time damage he did…

    “We still can’t pay vendors on time for services they perform for the state”

    … by purposely hurting Illinois.

    So, I’m sorry if I can agree with her overall thought, but her lack of honesty to history and application is as silly as her self-proclaimed moniker.


  7. - Real - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:09 am:

    The U.S.is way behind the world when it comes to highspeed rail. There should be highspeed rail connecting Chicago to Springfield etc.


  8. - striketoo - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:11 am:

    We need to spend our limited resources on the maintenance of existing infrastructure, not on new rail projects that no one will ever use.


  9. - 62656 - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:12 am:

    $57M for a couple of miles of road widening through Woodstock. This sounds like what some call “induced demand” as people feel greater ability to travel further in the same amount of time. An additional option (both could be done), which wouldn’t require spending, would be for Woodstock to relax or eliminate density limits so that more people would be allowed to live near that 2 mile stretch of road.

    PDF of Woodstock’s zoning map: https://www.woodstockil.gov/sites/default/files/fileattachments/building_amp_zoning/page/706/zoning_color_web.pdf


  10. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:16 am:

    – We still can’t pay vendors on time for services they perform for the state, and we are paying off bonds we bought to cover those day-to-day costs.–

    Says the loudest cheerleader for Rauner’s willful strategy of running up the backlog of bills to $16 billion in an attempt to extract anti-union concessions and run “collectivist” social service providers out of business.

    One of those “tax, spend, but not pay bills conservatives.”


  11. - Robert the Bruce - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:22 am:

    The other difference between the soda tax and these taxes was the percentage - the soda tax was over 60% on a 2 liter.


  12. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:25 am:

    ==The U.S.is way behind the world when it comes to highspeed rail. There should be highspeed rail connecting Chicago to Springfield etc.==

    Sad thing is the federal government already paid for and finished Illinois’ high speed rail infrastructure. We need to just finish the thing, testing for positive train control and buying the high speed locomotives.

    http://www.chicagomag.com/city-life/February-2019/What-Happened-to-High-Speed-Rail-in-Illinois/


  13. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:53 am:

    –The other difference between the soda tax and these taxes was the percentage - the soda tax was over 60% on a 2 liter.–

    It was also incoherent. Bars, restaurants and retailers with fountain sales were at a loss as to what products were to be taxed and at what volumes.


  14. - Cheryl44 - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:56 am:

    I liked the soda tax. I think stuff like that should be taxed the way liquor and smokes are taxed.


  15. - Ok - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 10:58 am:

    I would say it actually isn’t an either-or proposition.

    Not everything needs 30-year bonds to pay off. Aren’t we still paying off the 1991 Build Illinois bonds?

    Bridges: Bond them at 30 years
    Transit: Bond transit expansion at 30 years, repair and other capital at 15 years (including train cars and buses), and deferred maintenance and repair as PAYGO.
    Repaving and resurfacing: PAYGO. Stuff barely lasts a few years these days.
    Build-up: 5 years to match real estate investment cycles
    Community Investment: PAYGO, unless it is part of a major economic stimulus package


  16. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 11:05 am:

    ===I would say it actually isn’t an either-or proposition===

    The only person saying that is the governor. lol


  17. - Ok - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 11:11 am:

    This is true


  18. - Robert the Bruce - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 11:26 am:

    I wonder how big of a tax hike the beer tax really is. The craft beer movement means more revenue/gallon now compared with 10 years ago, and this is a tax per gallon rather than per dollar.


  19. - Six Degrees of Separation - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 11:30 am:

    Just to put things in perspective, the current estimated cost of the California LA to SF high speed rail project (which is a true high speed electrified line) is $79.1 billion. This is about double the entire capital bill amount now being considered for IL. Just a reminder that all infrastructure improvement these days is expensive, and we won’t likely ever find enough money to make everyone happy. Spend it wisely.


  20. - Anonymous - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 11:32 am:

    Dan Walker proposed financinf the purchase of picnic tables with 20-year bonds.


  21. - Ok - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 11:57 am:

    The state of Illinois’ picnic tables do seem to last far more than 20 years, though…


  22. - Truthteller - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 12:26 pm:

    McQueary: “Nearly two years ago, voters in Cook County rebelled against taxation.“
    I think McQueary has the voice of Tribune editors confused with the voice of the people.
    Ask John Fritchey and the other defeated Cook County commissioners why I think that.
    McQueary continues to write in a fact-free zone


  23. - FP_J - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 12:54 pm:

    Using the California costs to argue against high speed rail here is a mistake, since we should strive for “best practices” and that precludes domestic examples…. For some enlightening international comparisons, read some of the posts here:

    https://pedestrianobservations.com/construction-costs/

    Long story short: 1) higher competent project managers not consultants, 2) separate the design from the construction contracts, and 3) buy off-the-shelf European train sets.

    Regarding bonding: it is appropriate to match the bonding period to the lifetime of the infrastructure. Otherwise, it causes “generational inequity” where current tax payers are paying for future users’ infrastructure. Of course, we’ve often done the reverse (see pension crisis where current lower taxes are paid for by future tax payers), but that doesn’t make it good policy.


  24. - FP_J - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 12:55 pm:

    Sorry — should be “1) hire competent project managers…”


  25. - Froganon - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 2:31 pm:

    =We need to spend our limited resources on the maintenance of existing infrastructure, not on new rail projects that no one will ever use=

    Striketoo, People flock to mass transit that offers a decent ride and reasonable hours. Communities with mass transit options were more resilient during the last recession (Center for Neighborhood Technology, Driven to Spend). Folks can get to work for less and have more to spend at home. Roads and highways are more expensive on a per capita basis than mass transit. Mass transit construction creates more jobs after it’s built. We need to invest more if not most of our transportation dollars where they serve the most people - in mass transit projects.


  26. - striketoo - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 2:55 pm:

    Striketoo, People flock to mass transit that offers a decent ride and reasonable hours. I was talking more about the kind of super expensive high speed rail projects like California just abandoned. We don’t have the kind of density in the state to justify them. Maintaining existing mass transit is another issue and is usually cost effective.


  27. - FP_J - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 3:17 pm:

    = We don’t have the kind of density in the state to justify them. Maintaining existing mass transit is another issue and is usually cost effective. =

    I can’t find the reference now, but I recall reading the density levels in the Midwest are similar to France, so it obviously can work if done well. Perhaps it was from the 2009 study where the French national rail operator (SNCF) proposed building a Midwestern network. It would have required subsidies for capital, but they anticipated that fare revenue would have covered operations.

    You can find it, along with other studies, here:

    http://www.midwesthsr.org/studies


  28. - Denise - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 4:21 pm:

    Toll all expressways in northeastern Illinois. Huge revenue right from the users. A lot of problems solved. Regardless the revenue has to come from somewhere.


  29. - Ok - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 5:40 pm:

    Striketoo…

    Ain’t nobody trying to go to St. Louis


  30. - BAP - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 5:59 pm:

    Blessed by income inequality? I grew up in a working class houehold and have worked for 30 years to get where I am today. And then JB comes along.


  31. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 7:01 pm:

    –Toll all expressways in northeastern Illinois. Huge revenue right from the users.–

    As long as you leave the money there to maintain those roads.

    If you want to go that user-fee route, once you get out of the metro, you’re going to have some doozy tolls to maintain those rural stretches of the interstates, given the long miles and lack of users.

    The Eastern Blocheads might just get their dirt roads that way.


  32. - Al - Tuesday, May 21, 19 @ 9:23 pm:

    The beer tax is 4.7 cent increase from the current 18.4 cents to 23.1. The State brings in $60 some million a year current so this 25% increase is about $16 million.
    Does that math check out? Roughly.


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