Illinois lawmakers could expand lockbox-restricted road fund uses

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(The Center Square) – Illinois lawmakers are, again, seeking to expand how state transportation tax revenue could be spent.

Members of the Illinois House Revenue and Finance Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would allow suburban Chicago counties to spend tax revenue that is protected by the state constitution’s lockbox amendment on “nonvehicular public travel, sidewalks, and bike paths.”

State Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Highwood, said his bill would not require counties to use the revenue in this way, rather just give them the choice.

“They would like to have that option and be accountable to their districts on a local level to use the motor fuel tax to support those efforts,” he said. 

Republicans feared the expansion of the protected funds would further siphon money away from the state’s ailing roads and bridges. 

“It’s probably better-served that most sidewalks, bike paths, things like that are covered by other counties, municipalities, park districts and things where people expect some of those projects to be funded from,” said Rep. Tim Ozinga, R-Mokena. “Nearly 80% of the voters made it very clear that they want their motor fuel tax and road funds to be used for their roads.”

Ozinga is the vice president of Ozinga Bros. Inc., which lays concrete and participates in projects that likely use the aforementioned tax revenues.

House Bill 2950 now heads to the House floor for consideration.

The vote came just hours after a report estimating the state fell more than $1 billion short in its estimate of expected transportation revenue due to the pandemic. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had costly and disruptive impacts on people, businesses, and institutions in every corner of our state,” study author and Illinois Economic Policy Institute analyst Mary Tyler said. “While some sectors, including transportation, are beginning to rebound, they continue to lag well behind pre-pandemic levels.  And it’s important to understand these impacts have significant implications not just for the future implementation of the Rebuild Illinois capital plan, but the state’s broader post-pandemic economic recovery as well.”

This isn’t the first time lawmakers expanded what these constitutionally protected funds could be used for. In 2019, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that would allow vehicle emissions testing facility costs to be paid for with revenue from funds like motor fuel tax revenue.

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