Blagojevich’s sentence commuted, but truckers still paying for his ‘crimes’
February 19, 2020
On Tuesday, Feb. 18, President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. While Blagojevich is done paying for his crimes, truckers continue to pay for his crimes well after he went to prison.
Blagojevich was released from a Colorado prison on Tuesday after serving nearly eight years of his 14-year sentence. The former governor was accused of many crimes and convicted on some. One of the scandals he was accused of involved the Illinois tollway. Although Blagojevich was acquitted of that charge, he undeniably committed a metaphorical crime against truckers in the form of massive toll hikes.
In December 2008, Blagojevich was arrested and charged with corruption. According to a Department of Justice complaint, Blagojevich allegedly used a pay-to-play scheme in various situations. The most notable example was filling Barack Obama’s state senate seat after he was elected president.
However, another allegation involves the Illinois Tollway Authority. According to the complaint, Blagojevich allegedly awarded large contracts for a $1.8 billion tollway project to those who contributed a substantial amount of money to the Friends of Blagojevich campaign committee. Counts stemming from the tollway allegations were among the few for which Blagojevich was acquitted.
However, Blagojevich did something completely legal that took far more money from truckers than he may have received from alleged campaign contributions.
That $1.8 billion project mentioned in the complaint refers to an Illinois Tollway “green lanes” plan. In 2008, Blagojevich authorized the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to increase truck tolls by 60%. Specifically, truck tolls went up 40% in 2015, another 10% in 2016 and yet another 10% in 2017.
Adding insult to injury, trucks were not allowed to use the lanes that they ultimately paid for under Blagojevich’s plan.
Shortly after Blagojevich signed off on the plan, he was arrested for several corruption charges. He would eventually be convicted of 17 of 20 counts in 2011 and report to prison in 2012. Three years into his sentence, the extreme truck toll hike went into effect.
In 2014, Don Schaefer, executive vice president of the Springfield, Ill.-based Mid-West Truckers Association, spoke with Land Line about the debacle.
“It leaves a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, because this toll increase that we’re going to experience on Jan. 1 is the last vestige of an action that was done by now-imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who had no love for the trucking industry,” Schaefer told Land Line.
“The Tollway under his administration, before he was indicted and removed from office, imposed this toll increase, which was not even going to take effect for years. What we’ve got, literally and figuratively, is what I call a phantom toll increase.”
A quick look at truck toll rates compared with four-wheeler rates today shows the lasting effects of Blagojevich’s governorship on the trucking industry. He got out six years early. Meanwhile, truckers continue to pay for his “crime” against them. Too bad Blagojevich was not charged with highway robbery.