Illinois Supreme Court protects transportation revenue

April 26, 2022

Keith Goble

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The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled in favor of constitutional protection for transportation revenue.

At issue was a 2016 voter-approved statewide ballot initiative to amend the Illinois Constitution to prevent revenue from the state’s road fund from being used for purposes not related to transportation.

Nearly 80% of Illinois voters voted to create a so-called lockbox for transportation-related funding.

Despite the election outcome, Cook County continued to use transportation revenue for purposes not related to road funding. Specifically, the Cook County Record reports a portion of the money was routed to the county’s Public Safety Fund.

In 2018, the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association challenged in court the diversions totaling nearly $250 million.

A history of diversion

Illinois collects a fuel and excise tax on gas and diesel to support transportation-related funding. Other revenue is generated from vehicle fees.

Diverting revenue from fuel taxes and other driver fees has been a common practice in Illinois. Figures from 2016 showed that dating back to fiscal year 2003 a reported $6.8 billion in state transportation-related tax revenue had been raided for other purposes.

The diversions contributed to a projected 10-year, $43 billion transportation funding shortfall.

Lockbox protection

The 6-year-old voter-approved lockbox protection specifies that all transportation-related revenue is to be directed solely for transportation purposes. Construction and paying debt related to transit projects were included in the protection.

Additionally, the governor’s office is forbidden to tap into the funding source for other uses.

The protection does not apply to state and local sales taxes. The taxes are often added to the fuel tax collected at the pump.

Court process

The lawsuit against Cook County initially was dismissed by a circuit court. An appeals court similarly sided with the county.

The matter was then taken up by the Illinois Supreme Court, where justices ruled 6-1 in favor of the plaintiffs. The court said transportation revenue obtained from Cook County and other local governments is subject to the voter-approved amendment.

The court’s majority opinion said “we find the language of the Amendment to be plain and unambiguous, reject the County’s interpretation of the Amendment as unreasonable, and find no issue with the manner in which home-rule units have had their power limited in the transportation context.”

Home rule cities in Illinois are defined as municipalities with a population exceeding 25,000. LL

More Land Line coverage of news from Illinois.

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Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.