Maybe it was the audience he was addressing, but newly instated Ill. Gov. Bruce Rauner told members of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association a week or so ago in Springfield that he planned to invest more in infrastructure and road improvements in the next four years than has ever been invested in Illinois before. “I want to invest billions of dollars in our infrastructure in the coming years, billions and billions,” he told association members.
Maintaining the state's roads, rail, airports, locks and dams, he continued, are “key to Illinois' future.”
Problem is, like governors of neighboring states, he hasn't figured out a way to maintain them. Or if he has, he isn't saying. He has sniped about unions and prevailing wages and other issues he says inflate the costs of road and bridge programs, perhaps or perhaps not allusive of matters he later intends to address, but no word on how those billions and billions in projects will be funded.
Surely not by borrowing, not in the land of unfunded pensions. He's already seen the mess borrowing made of state finances and, at present, is scrambling to patch a $1.6-billion hole in the state budget.
Nevertheless, the issue of infrastructure arises at a critical juncture, given the state's $31-billion road program, funded by video gambling and higher taxes on alcohol and vehicle licenses, expires this year. Meantime, Transportation for Illinois Coalition contends Illinois requires $1.8 billion more than the state's motor sales tax annually accrues simply to cover maintenance costs.
One obvious if not universally embraced option is a hike in gasoline taxes, which have remained untouched for nearly 25 years. As recently as Wednesday, however, Rauner told state businessmen that raising taxes – any taxes – isn't the answer to the state's financial problems.
Instead, he demonstrated last week that cuts are the order of the day when he slashed mass transit investment in metro Chicago by $170 million, give or take.
So what Illinois has is a governor caught in the cross currents of opposing policies, invest on the one hand and cuts on the other, which could amount to a state transportation program that is all over the road.