Three reasons the “Safe Roads Amendment” is bad policy
Constitutional Amendment 36, named the “Safe Roads Amendment” (or SRA) by its proponents, is on the Illinois ballot this November. It purports to be a good government measure, protecting transportation funds from being raided for other purposes during a fiscal crisis.
But the SRA may create more problems than it solves. Here are three reasons the SRA is bad policy for Illinois, based on a Fact Sheet we published yesterday:
- The SRA’s wording is broad enough that it may actually capture money that was never intended to fund transportation to begin with. For example, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources gets $30 million per year from fees for license plates and vehicle titles, and Chicago gets over $240 million from taxes on parking, fuel purchases, and for-hire transportation for general services. These are funds that pay for important programs — but because their sources are “transportation related,” they very well might be redirected by the SRA. Because there’s no provision to replace that revenue, that would force either service cuts or tax hikes to make up the difference.
- While SRA proponents argue that over $6 billion has been diverted from transportation programs, other independent reviews have found much less: the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, for example, suggests that just $520 million was diverted between 2004 and 2015. The real problem with funding transportation in Illinois — as with education and other services — is that the state doesn’t have enough money to pay for all of its programs: it has a “structural deficit.” The SRA wouldn’t raise any new money to solve this problem — it would just fund transportation by keeping money away from other services.
- Because the SRA is being proposed as a Constitutional Amendment, it will be very hard to undo any unintended consequences. Constitutions are a bad budgeting tool because they’re inflexible and don’t allow for the kind of debate and weighing of priorities that budgeting is all about.