Brothers and Sisters,
In recent columns, I have focused on the work we have done over the past few years to secure and protect infrastructure funding, and how that has put us in the position we are in today – to be looking ahead at an abundance of road, bridge and infrastructure projects.
Again, our efforts when it comes to infrastructure funding focus on two key goals – securing and protecting. We can fight like hell for capital bills, but if greedy lawmakers can just sweep the money out, we need to add an extra layer of protection.
Nearly a decade ago, we knew that infrastructure bills would be needed before long in Illinois and Indiana, and that they would more than likely be funded by motor fuel tax increases – a user fee for the drivers who wear down the roads. Tax increases are always a touchy subject, so we polled the public, and to our surprise, voters were highly supportive of the idea—but only if there was some assurance that the funds would actually go toward fixing infrastructure. Voters know that politicians have sticky fingers when it comes to road funds, as we have been reminded this spring.
It was with that realization that the idea for the Illinois Safe Roads Amendment came to be, where Illinois infrastructure funding would be placed in a “lockbox” that could not be used for anything else. Period. No exceptions. It was a good idea, and 80 percent of voters supported it.
Leave it to politicians to get cute in their efforts to steal infrastructure money, even after voters speak clearly in opposition. Cook County, claiming exemption from the amendment as a home rule unit of government, kept spending transportation dollars on anything and everything it wanted. Really, how surprised could we be? They were the first, but we hardly suspected they would be the last.
The Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association filed a lawsuit against Cook County, and we had reservations about picking Cook County as the defendant when this lawsuit would be setting brand new precedent that could impact home rule governments across Illinois. Nonetheless, the IRTBA pressed on. The circuit court dismissed the lawsuit, saying IRTBA had no standing to file it. Last year, an appeals court found that the IRTBA did have standing, but dismissed the lawsuit anyway.
There was nowhere left to go but to the Illinois Supreme Court, and both Local 150 and the Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting submitted briefs supporting the IRTBA’s case, arguing that voters did not leave a loophole for governments with home rule authority to continue plundering road funds.
Only a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court reversed the initial dismissal by the circuit court and found that Cook County’s transportation revenue is clearly subject to the “lockbox” amendment. With that point cleared up, the case is headed back to court, where we are optimistic that the circuit court will put a stop to any home rule governments raiding road funds. No more looking over our shoulder on this half-baked scheme by politicians looking for a buck.
This lawsuit has been ongoing for nearly four years, and if it sounds like this is a hell of a lot of work, you’ve been paying attention. We worked closely with the IRTBA on the initial arguments and the appeals process, and feel that the amicus briefs we submitted were helpful in the Supreme Court reaching its decision.
Why is it so important to get involved in these fights? Because everyone else is watching, and if one county gets away with it, everyone else will line up to fill their budget holes with road money.
I want you to think of Local 150 as the National Rifle Association for the road fund. When it comes to funding that supports our members’ livelihoods, we don’t miss anything, we don’t give up anything, and we will fight for every last dollar.
This was put into action again this spring when everybody and their brother tried to repeal or freeze gas taxes, which fund all this infrastructure work. In Chicago, we shut it down. In Indiana, the majority of lawmakers squashed the idea. In Illinois, we worked with House Speaker Welch and Senate President Harmon to find a solution to their desire for tax cuts that will leave the road fund whole. While they freeze the inflationary increase to the gas tax until January, the revenue will be replaced by transfers from an underground storage tank fund for six months before the inflationary increase is passed through. The Road Fund will not lag behind, and will get every cent it needs.
It sure would be easier if we didn’t have to be watchdogs, but as long as there are people trying to defund road and bridge projects, we will fight the good fight. As you can imagine, with every attempt, we lose a little bit of faith in the legislative process. That is why we look to the constitution to put these issues to rest in a way that some incoming group of legislators can’t mess with a year or a decade down the road.
This fall, we will present our second constitutional amendment to voters in Illinois. The Workers’ Rights Amendment has been a goal since former Governor Bruce Rauner came to town and tried to restrict workers’ ability to organize and collectively bargain, along with plans to create “right-to-work” zones and ban prevailing wage at the municipal level. The entire labor movement mobilized and fought small battles almost every day.
One man being elected by a razor-thin margin should never be able to make workers fight for our livelihoods like that. And in states like Missouri, labor spent $25 million in 2017 to defeat a proposed “right-to-work” law, only to have it pop up again a few years later. This is not a fight we want to fight at the statehouse. We want to fight this one at the ballot box, and this constitutional amendment will give voters the say on whether workers’ rights are worth protecting.
We have polled this issue for years, and we will run into stiff opposition when shady groups like the Illinois Policy Institute dishonestly mischaracterize our amendment as something it isn’t.
The general public will have to be educated on what our amendment does, but these issues are familiar to you and me. There is no excuse for union members not to vote yes on the Workers’ Rights Amendment. Beyond that, we need to get everybody we know to vote yes with us. Tell them what happens when greedy politicians start chipping away at workers’ rights, because we’ve seen it happen. Paychecks get smaller, healthcare gets more expensive, and workplaces aren’t as safe. Workers deserve protection, and we are coming for it in November.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall.