Capitol Fax.com - Your Illinois News Radar » *** UPDATED x1 - Local 150 responds, criticizes plaintiffs *** Appellate ruling: Transportation lock box amendment doesn’t apply to home rule units
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*** UPDATED x1 - Local 150 responds, criticizes plaintiffs *** Appellate ruling: Transportation lock box amendment doesn’t apply to home rule units

Friday, Mar 5, 2021

* 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.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

16 Comments
  1. - Commisar Gritty - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 9:49 am:

    I remember the massaging around that lock box amendment being that it was super tight. Not surprised to see CC get a work around, if anyone was going to crack the lockbox, it’d be them.


  2. - Frank talks - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 10:02 am:

    Cook is only Home Rule County so for them its big but how many municipalities now will try to use that ruling for a work around on MFT funds?


  3. - RNUG - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 10:25 am:

    The lockbox was a big deal. Expect to see someone attempt a bill clarifying it also applys to home rule units, even if it has to be a CA.


  4. - DuPage - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 10:45 am:

    I seem to remember a Cook County judge ruling that public pensions could be cut. Later the ISC ruled that the IL constitution said they could not be cut. I expect a similar ruling about this case as well.


  5. - yinn - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 10:56 am:

    In 2014, DeKalb built a new police station, in part by using local (home rule) fuel taxes to pay back the bond. After Lockbox passed, the city scrambled for another funding source and switched the allocation from bond to airport. So I am disappointed by this ruling (though not surprised). Both these moves were controversial because the streets maintenance program has been badly lagging need for a long time.

    I wish state MFT rules were stricter also. We’ve been spending it on commodities (road salt and electricity for streetlights) and this has cheated us of nearly $500,000 in street improvements annually over the past 15 years.


  6. - Uncle Merkin - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 11:08 am:

    And this…this is why we can’t have nice things.


  7. - Cluster - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 11:11 am:

    Justice Dave Ellis wrote the opinion and it is very well reasoned. The end story is that the Constitutional Amendment applied to transportation funds established by statute and not those established by ordinances established pursuant to a County’s home rule powers.


  8. - Bruce( no not him) - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 11:12 am:

    Lockbox? we don’t need no stinkin’ lockbox. That only applies to everybody else, not us.


  9. - Fav Human - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 11:23 am:

    The reasoning is so so. Was the phrase “other transportation purposes as authorized by law.”

    Added as a way to break the box?

    Yet another reason the voters are highly skeptical of what the legislature SAYS it will do.


  10. - duck duck goose - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 11:32 am:

    The opinion goes through the legislative transcript, where the amendment’s sponsors specifically stated, on the record, that the amendment was not intended to apply to non-statutory, home-rule taxes–they used the specific example of Cook County’s home rule taxes. There’s more to the opinion than that, but that seems pretty dispositive about what was intended.


  11. - Anyone Remember - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 11:56 am:

    ==Yet another reason the voters are highly skeptical of what the legislature SAYS it will do.==

    As an immigrant, was amazed at Illinois’ “Home Rule” - there really isn’t anything as expansive in other states. And Illinoisans do love their “Home Rule” …


  12. - duck duck goose - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 12:15 pm:

    ==”…there isn’t really anything as expansive [as Illinois home rule] in other states.”==

    That’s not true–most states have home rule in some form. Most states apply home rule to more units of government than Illinois, which only applies it to certain municipalities and Cook County.


  13. - Commisar Gritty - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 3:28 pm:

    @Fav Human
    “Yet another reason…”
    Don’t blame this one on the GA, they practically painted a tunnel into the mountain wall and called it a loop hole. I doubtful this will stand up in appeal, the GA very much meant for it to be a lockbox.


  14. - Anyone Remember - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 3:41 pm:

    duck duck goose -

    Municipalities under the threshold can vote to become Home Rule, something I’m not aware of in other states. When law enforcement officer training became mandatory in 1976, there was a Home Rule exemption. While Home Rule units voluntarily complied to get financial assistance for training expenses, Mound City became, in part, Home Rule so they didn’t have to train their officers. And they didn’t. Can’t say I’ve seen anything like that in other states.


  15. - Chicagonk - Friday, Mar 5, 21 @ 4:00 pm:

    I wonder if Chicago segregated pension costs associated with Streets and Sanitation and DOT so they were paid for by lockbox funds what 150’s argument would be then.


  16. - From DaZoo - Monday, Mar 8, 21 @ 10:14 am:

    Even at the state level, the lockbox said funds had to be used for transportation related expenditures, not specific projects (construction). This quickly became obvious during the first budget after the lockbox was in place when a large chunk of money was removed from IDOT budget and given to RTA to replace money they were receiving out of the General Revenue fund. Even if the 150 would have won this argument, it would not necessarily mean their members would see more work.


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