* Cook County Record…
Cook County and other “home rule” units of local government in Illinois are not obligated to spend transportation tax money on actual transportation projects, despite a state constitutional amendment intended to lock away transportation funding from being spent elsewhere, a state appeals panel has ruled.
In the ruling, the appellate justices said they believed the limits within the so-called Safe Roads Amendment applies only to taxes levied by the state government itself, or governed by state law.
“In sum, all of the extrinsic information that might inform us of the Amendment’s intent points to the same conclusion that struck us as the most reasonable as well,” the justices wrote.
“The Amendment protects from diversion those revenues from transportation-related taxes whose expenditure is authorized by statute. The Amendment does not sequester revenues from transportation-related taxes spent by home-rule units pursuant to their independent constitutional spending power.” […]
The road builder associations said, by diverting the money away from transportation construction and maintenance, the county was balancing its budgets on the backs of its member workers, businesses and unions. […]
The county cautioned that allowing the road builders’ interpretation would not only be opposed to the actual language of the amendment, but would open units of Illinois local governments to a six-lane freeway of lawsuits from “transportation contractors and the like with an appetite for more construction contracts who will demand a ‘line-item accounting’ of how they spend their money…,” the county wrote in a brief filed in Cook County court in 2018.
The opinion is here.
*** UPDATE *** Ed Maher of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150…
Typically in constitutional jurisprudence, a strategy is employed to define the contours of constitutional limitations in a case of first impressions. The plaintiffs in this case clearly employed no such strategy.
We are disappointed by the decision, not least because we worked closely with home rule communities and advocates in the eleventh hour of crafting this amendment, and all were in agreement that the lockbox would include home rule units.
We will work – legally and legislatively – to fix the damage that has been done to this important policy. Illinoisans have come to demand that transportation revenue be used for transportation purposes, and this decision places local governments at a crossroads of whether to build taxpayers’ confidence in them or dispense with it completely.