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Gretchen
GRETCHEN
STEELE

Through the Lens

The Safe Roads Amendment -

Fri, October 14, 2016


Let’s face it, on the surface this sounds like a great thing. “Locking up” Transportation funds so they can’t be swept into whatever the pet program of the day might be.

Sportsmen and women in Illinois are all too aware of what happens when funds aren’t locked up. We’ve watched dollar after dollar swept from our DNR, in some cases illegally so.  (Who can forget the sweep of Pittman -  Robertson money?) 

So this seems like virtually a no brainer right? Amend the constitution so those folks in Springfield cannot divert, sweep, reassign monies that should be being spent on maintaining the highways and byways of our state.

Well, like everything in Illinois politics these days, we have to look beyond the initial message and see what’s really happening.

There are two distinct reasons to consider voting no on this amendment.

The first troubling pieces of this is that it creates a constitutional amendment. Yes, an amendment to our state constitution. Are we so afraid of what our legislature will do that we have enact a constitutional amendment to keep them in line on fiduciary matters? Should we just do one giant constitutional amendment regarding finances rather than press them to develop and pass balanced budgets each year?

The Amendment is very clear about how monies can be spent - “no moneys ... derived from ... license taxes relating to registration, title, or operation or use of vehicles” can be expended other than for transportation.

Let that sink in a minute. 

Thousands of Illinoisans spend extra money each year for specialty license plates to help fund causes near and dear to their hearts. These range from collegiate plates to supporting sports teams, to more importantly to support charitable organizations like breast and ovarian cancer, waterfowl habitat, environmental concerns, parks, wildlife conservation, and drug prevention. There are dozens of these plates that have been created as method of fund raising. The surcharge, usually $40, goes to the cause. These causes are not even remotely related to transportation, so where exactly will that money go should this amendment pass?  Will that extra 40 dollars you spend annually for your sportsman plate ever see anything related to fish, deer, turkeys, or waterfowl should this amendment pass?

While legislators may say now that well, gee we will go ahead and let those go through…the letter of the law in the amendment says they can’t just work around the amendment. After all, this diversion of transportation funds, isn’t that the type of thing this amendment is supposed to stop?

Let’s look at how this could impact our DNR in a most negative way. 

$2 of each license plate fee and $3.25 of each vehicle title fee goes to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources — almost $30 million a year, according to IDNR estimates. Is every bit of these funds spent solely on transportation related costs? Well of course not.

Remember, the amendment expressly prohibits using those fees for anything other than transportation. Getting the measure to add those fees was a difficult and arduous process. Where will that 30 million that IDNR stands to lose come from if it is lost? It would likely have to come in the form of some type of similar tax or fee hikes. Or worse yet more staff, program, and general cuts to IDNR. Yet, the monies that voters once upon a time agreed to designate for DNR, remain locked up and spent only on transportation per the amendment.

IDNR staff say the department currently plans to evaluate the amendment’s potential repercussions for its budget should it be approved, after the election. Isn’t this a little like closing the barn door after the horses have fled?

Some within IDNR and IL Secretary State offices believe that,  well gee, it will all be okay because amendment sponsors said during floor debates that it really wasn’t their intention go after the DNR plate and title fees, nor the specialty plate fees.

BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT THE AMENDMENT LANGUAGE SAYS.

There we go again with those pesky legal details. Let us not forget that the IL Supreme Court has history of reading amendment text quite literally.

Is this what we want in our constitution? An amendment that in theory should force our legislators to show fiscal restraint and good stewardship but will also prevent them from making any changes without another overhaul to the constitution?

Will this create even more creative fiscal fun as legislators try to find a way around this amendment?

I say this should not be a constitutional amendment. We should not constitutionally provide funding to one area while constitutionally robbing others. 

*Please note- Statements and opinions expressed in this article are those solely of the author and may or may not be the same as Heartland Outdoors or Lampe Publishing.

Comments

Ha, Gretchen… I’d just written an article on this and was getting ready to post it here!  You covered it well!
****
One point of clarification, though.  The use for “transportation” is pretty defined.  According to the “letter of the law” IDNR couldn’t use those funds, even for transportation within the department.  Here’s the uses for which this would be allowed…
****
“Under the proposed amendment, transportation funds may be used by the State or local governments only for the following purposes: (1) costs related to administering transportation and vehicle laws, including public safety purposes and the payment of obligations such as bonds; (2) the State or local share necessary to secure federal funds or for local government transportation purposes as authorized by law; (3) the construction, reconstruction, improvement, repair, maintenance, and operation of highways, mass transit, and railroad crossings; (4) expenses related to workers’ compensation claims for death or injury of transportation agency employees; and (5) to purchase land for building highways or buildings for to be used for highway purposes.”
****
I’ve also heard the excuses and that the DNR funds would be OK, but I don’t trust most lawyers or politicians.  And this measure was sponsored by the head of the Illinois, and national, Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.  But we’re supposed to pay no attention to the wording because they can still sweep IDNR portion… even though the amendment says they can’t sweep the IDNR portion.  Trust them, right????

Posted by Kevin C on October 14

https://ballotpedia.org/Illinois_Transportation_Taxes_and_Fees_Lockbox_Amendment_(2016)

Some good info at this link, if you want to read all the details.

Posted by Kevin C on October 14

Kevin - Thank you so much for clearing up any confusion about the “transportation” definition. That’s important for folks to understand, so that the theory of ...well, it will still be okay for DNR, they can just use that money for “transportation” projects and shuffle funds around, really isn’t so. Thanks too, for the excellent link to ballotpedia. I should have had you edit my post before posting, or we should have collaborated. You have such a knack for explaining all the numbers legalese side of things in understandable formats!

Posted by G on October 14

“Are we so afraid of what our legislature will do that we have enact a constitutional amendment to keep them in line on fiduciary matters?” 

Yes.  $200+ billion in debt kinda suggests we can’t trust what our so called representatives do with our tax money.

Posted by buckbull on October 14

The only rule in Springfield is there are no rules !!! I would think if IDOT collected fee’s from license plate sales, and didn’t forward said monies from these sales, then they would do so under false pretenses, opening a whole new can of worms. They could discontinue the programs, but these are programs many with in the state participate in,and not just Wildlife related. I bet something will be legislated for these programs to continue like before, but then again remember there are no rules.

RTT

Posted by Ringtailtrapper on October 14

Construction interests have already spent 2.4 million dollars to make sure the Amendment passes in it’s presented form.

Have faith that if the 30 million is taken from the IDNR legislators will find a new 30 million dollar tax to replace it. Call it Sustainability Bill 2.0. Lets see Sustainability Bill #1: 30 million, Sustainability 2.0: 30 million…............ 60 million in new taxes so we are almost talking real money.

Posted by The Colonel on October 15

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