From the Springfield Journal-Register:
In the fiscal year that begins today, Illinois has plans to spend $2.2 billion in road and bridge improvements.
These vital construction projects will not only improve traveler safety and congestion problems across our state, they will support 23,000 mostly middle-class jobs, and provide a needed boost to our state’s economy. The money for these projects is already available. Most importantly, it cannot be used for any other purpose due to the Illinois Safe Roads Amendment, which 79 percent of Illinois voters passed in 2016.
To get these projects going, all that needs to happen is for state leaders to appropriate these already available funds — just like they did last year. That effort already has broad bipartisan support in the legislature.
Unfortunately, the new fiscal year started today sans a state budget, and without authorization from state lawmakers, the Illinois Department of Transportation announced its intent to suspended existing and planned construction projects. This will be a devastating and entirely unnecessary blow to workers, businesses, motorists, taxpayers and the Illinois economy as a whole.
And the blame for this potentially disastrous game of political brinksmanship falls on Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose administration is holding IDOT hostage in an attempt to force legislators to cave into demands — including some that have no impact on the budget — he has made for two years.
But let’s be clear. Regardless of the support or opposition to Rauner’s proposals, the fact is that the projects affected by an IDOT shutdown would provide zero state budget relief. Zero. Funding for these projects is provided through federal and local sources, and existing state fuel taxes and registration fees. And it bears repeating that our state constitution dictates that these funds cannot be spent on anything but transportation projects.
Ultimately, a protracted IDOT shutdown will not only cost tens of thousands of hard-working people their jobs, shrink our economy by billions of dollars and endanger the traveling public, but it will make our state’s budget problems worse.
This is because stopping and then eventually re-starting projects — especially when the stoppage occurs during prime construction season — only delays their completion and increases their cost. As with health care, failing to perform preventive maintenance on our most vital infrastructure invites more costly repairs later on. And research shows that throwing this many people out of work will only reduce income tax collections and increase reliance on taxpayer funded social services by hundreds of millions of dollars this year.
Whatever your politics, there’s no doubt that our state’s continuing budget stalemate is unacceptable. But the test of leadership is finding common ground and building consensus — not taking innocent bystanders hostage.
Let’s hope that cooler heads in both parties will prevail inside the legislature, and pass a measure to appropriate the already available funds that can end the IDOT shutdown — even if it means overriding a veto from Rauner. This might be the only way to protect the innocent workers, commuters and taxpayers — people of good faith from across the political spectrum — who are currently caught in his crosshairs.
Let’s also remember that 2018 is an election year, and the governor who initiated this unnecessary crisis will be on the ballot.
— James M. Sweeney is the President-Business Manager of Operating Engineers Local 150, which represents more than 23,000 people in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.