Transportation “lockbox” amendment is a bad idea
The Illinois Constitution shouldn't be trivialized by a convoluted mess of budget restrictions.
At first glance, the proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot that would create a “lockbox” for Illinois’ transportation fund seems to make sense. After all, state politicians have often diverted money from the road fund to other projects and budget priorities, causing significant delays in infrastructure work and other core transportation tasks.
But rules dictating how transportation funds can be spent have no place in the Illinois Constitution. The transportation lockbox is a bad idea for Illinois law and the principle of responsible governance.
The Illinois Constitution’s purpose is to spell out the fundamental rights of citizens and the basic operational structure of government.
It’s not supposed to legislate or appropriate. And that’s what the lockbox amendment is – an overly specific set of rules that will set the precedent for turning the state constitution into a convoluted mess of budget restrictions.
After all, if transportation funds are too important for politicians to handle, then it follows that other core appropriations – for education and health care, for example – should also be restricted.
But budgeting is not a task for the constitution – it’s the job of Illinois lawmakers. Illinoisans pay their politicians too much to simply relieve them of their duties through mechanisms such as the transportation lockbox amendment.
It’s true, state politicians have done a poor job managing tax dollars. Over $6 billion has been diverted in the last 10 years from the road fund. But transportation funding isn’t the only appropriation threatened by politicians’ budget games – all core services have suffered as lawmakers have proved time after time that they are incapable of managing the state’s revenues and spending priorities. Illinois has gone without a balanced budget since 2001. Its credit rating has been downgraded close to 20 times since 2009. And lawmakers have been unable to pass a full budget for the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.
In light of this dismal record, it’s no wonder Illinoisans are tempted to restrict lawmakers’ power over the state’s transportation dollars.
But rather than demeaning the role of the constitution, the real solution to ending politicians’ fiscal mismanagement is to hold lawmakers accountable for their actions. That means voting irresponsible politicians out of office and demanding that remaining lawmakers pass amendments the Illinois Constitution actually needs – such as term limits and political remap reforms.