In late March, anxious to plug a $1.6 billion budget hole, Ill. Gov. Bruce Rauner shook some legislative branches and, among other funding sources, down plopped $350 million originally allocated for road construction and repairs. No problem, Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) indicated in a letter to the state's General Assembly, the funds wouldn't jeopardize projects.
Last week, IDOT painted a grimmer picture of its financial prospects, indicating state funds would amount to only $352 million of its planned $1.85 billion spending on infrastructure in fiscal 2015-2016, as compared to $1.16 billion in 2014-2015. Fact is, state funds for roads and bridges have plummeted nearly 95% since fiscal 2009-10, with all the usual culprits in play from insufficient gas tax revenues to borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.
As a result, Illinois road and bridge programs rely more heavily on federal funding, which is running on fumes.
The prospects are no better for several other Midwest states. Herewith, a run down:
Wisconsin – Gov. Scott Walker indicated earlier this month he would sign a state budget excluding borrowing to meet state transportation needs, even though it remains his preferred option for funding road and bridge programs. The rub: It is unlikely he will sign a budget stipulating increases on gas taxes or vehicle registration fees, leaving state transportation programs in a lurch.
Missouri – Last August, Missouri presented voters the option of a 3/4- penny retail tax to infuse its rapidly dwindling transportation program with $5 billion and voters responded with a resounding “No!” Earlier this spring, a proposed 2 cents-per-gallon gas tax died in the legislature, once again leaving the Show Me state high and dry. By fiscal 2017, Missouri will be unable to match availalel federal funds for transportation projects. Meantime, Missouri Department of Transportation has indicated, as it has before, that what meager funds remain will be allocated for maintenance. Period.
Michigan – Same story as Missouri. On May 5, only one in five voters approved Michigan Sales Tax Increase for Transportation Amendment, Proposal 15-1, a measure that would have raised the state sales tax to fund transportation and education programs. Legislators have since returned to the drawing board, the Michigan House of Representatives having approved a bill last week to eliminate an earned income tax credit for low-income residents and raise taxes on diesel fuel fees vehicle registrations to boost transportation funding by $1.2 billion per year. Not so fast, say members of Michigan's Senate, who don't relish the prospect of gouging the earned tax credit, among other bill provisions. Could be a long summer in Lansing. Stay tuned.
A lot of Midwesterners take to the road in summer. Here's hoping they don't hit any potholes.