If you're fed up with state lawmakers raiding the road fund to pay for emergencies of their own making, you might be attracted to the notion of keeping transportation revenue in a "lock box" so it can't be spent on other things.
If you worry that our highways and bridges are in disrepair despite the taxes you pay to maintain them, you might like the idea of voting for a so-called "safe roads" amendment.
Don't do it.
On Nov. 8, voters will be asked whether to change the Illinois Constitution to safeguard dollars — taxes paid at the pump, fees collected at driver's license facilities, and others — that are supposed to be dedicated to roads, bridges and infrastructure statewide.
State and local governments have regularly skimmed that money to cover other expenses. It's just too tempting for elected officials who are desperate to fulfill promises they made, but don't have the money to pay for. In Springfield, that's every year.
Supporters of the amendment say $6.8 billion has been swept from the road fund in the past decade. They say our roads are in disrepair — and our construction workers are underemployed — because lawmakers have treated those transportation dollars as a "slush fund."
Acknowledging their own lack of discipline, those same lawmakers are asking voters to change the constitution to protect that money. Think about that.
If the consensus among lawmakers is that the road fund shouldn't be raided, then they should stop raiding it.
Many of those same lawmakers have proved remarkably averse to making changes for other (and better) reasons.
Illinois voters overwhelmingly support two issues, term limits and redistricting reform, that the legislators resist: The General Assembly — its Democratic leaders, primarily — will not listen. They've refused repeatedly to allow votes on the House and Senate floors. To get around their elected representatives, citizens have collected signatures and raised and spent millions of dollars trying to get redistricting on the ballot. Citizens also have lobbied for term limits. Yet they've been thwarted by those very politicians.
If you're keeping score: The Illinois Supreme Court in August blocked from the ballot a citizen-generated redistricting reform amendment. Measures that would put term limits to a vote always get stuck in the committees controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, two leaders who have long benefited from the lack of term limits: Together they've spent 84 years in Springfield.
Yet Madigan and Cullerton responded swiftly to the interests of road-builders — the unions, the construction companies, the campaign donors — who demanded a constitutional change. Rank-and-file lawmakers got on board too. They know spending more on road projects provides them the opportunity to scissor pretty red ribbons back home. Putting this amendment on the November ballot passed with overwhelming support from both parties.
We still say: Vote "no."
Yes, we wish lawmakers would stop dipping into that money. Again, that is completely within their control. But a constitutional amendment would take away the flexibility required if there's an unexpected drop in revenue, a serious emergency or a crushing recession. It would be a mistake to protect road-building at the expense of education, social services, health care and other needs.
Who doesn't want safe roads? We all do. But transportation needs should not be enshrined in the constitution and prioritized above all others.
Now, on to another measure we hope Cook County voters will support: Vote "yes" to abolish the office of recorder of deeds and merge its duties into the clerk's office. The ballot question will let voters decide whether to keep a countywide elected office or eliminate it by the end of 2020. It's a rare opportunity for Cook taxpayers to downsize a government designed for the 19th century.
And we mean rare. The last chance voters had to eliminate an elected countywide position was in 1972.
We hope voters agree these two offices should merge. It would save roughly $800,000 annually and make county government more consumer-friendly. This one is a no-brainer for anyone who writes property tax checks to Cook County.
To recap: Vote "no" on the safe roads amendment. If you live in Cook County, vote "yes" to combine the offices of recorder of deeds and clerk.