Early voting has begun, yet there’s been precious little attention paid to a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution that sits atop the ballot.
The so-called “lockbox amendment” would require any and all revenue collected in connection with transportation be spent only on transportation needs. On the surface, it doesn’t sound unreasonable. But I’m voting against it and here’s why: It’s bad government.
Our state government is in a world of hurt. To return some luster to the Land of Lincoln, people in charge need budgetary flexibility.
Think of it this way: If no matter what the circumstance, a certain part of your weekly paycheck could be used only to purchase a specific service or product, wouldn’t that hamstring your options, forcing detrimental decisions?
Imagine this scenario as an example: $100 of your pay each week is permanently sequestered in a savings account, to be spent at some future date only for a newer car. But because of a rush of medical bills, you’ve fallen behind on your electric bill and the utility is about to shut off the juice. You have perhaps thousands of dollars in your new car account, yet you’re unable to tap into it so your home can continue to have electricity.
Sure, there may be other choices. Cut way back on groceries, skip a couple credit card payments, maybe step into a payday loan store and get a cash advance at an exorbitant interest rate. But segregating part of your income stream for a singular purpose has tied your hands and restricted your choices.
Illinois doesn’t need that, but that’s what this amendment would do.
You won’t be surprised to learn there’s a coalition of road contractors and labor unions pushing the amendment, spending $1 million on advertising to convince you it’s a good idea, having probably already spent even more money on focus groups to come up with the “Safe Roads Amendment” label for its public relations effort.
Yes, Illinois needs safe roads and bridges, good airports and efficient mass transit. It also needs a lot of other things. What it doesn’t need is lawmakers in budgetary handcuffs as they address all of the state’s persuasive priorities.
What lawmakers do need is the courage to make difficult decisions. If every dollar collected in transportation taxes and fees should be spent on roads and the like, they have the authority to do it. They also can decide to spend even more. Or, if necessary, less.
We’ve already seen how rigid restrictions within the state constitution can thwart legitimate attempts to fix the state’s pressing pension predicament which just earned the state another credit rating downgrade. Pass this amendment to the constitution and we’re adding to the problem with another set of shackles.
This and that
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