Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

April 14, 2019

The Quincy Herald-Whig

Lives depend on passage of HB 3823

By now, the problems are well-documented: More Illinois roads and bridges are falling into disrepair, and the state’s financial straits have left less money on the table to address the growing list of infrastructure deficiencies.

Voters took a crucial first step toward addressing the situation when they passed in 2016 the Safe Roads constitutional amendment mandating all money raised to fund transportation actually be used for that purpose. The so-called lockbox has stopped the state’s practice of raiding transportation funds to plug budget holes elsewhere, but it hasn’t addressed the fact that the state has been underfunding infrastructure needs for far too long.

In its 2018 Illinois Infrastructure Report Card, the American Society of Civil Engineers identified an estimated $10 billion in needed bridge repairs alone. Compare that with the $2.6 billion in bridge maintenance funding to be spent over six years identified by the Illinois Department of Transportation’s latest Multi-Year Plan (FY2018-2023), and you have a disaster in the making.

Only two states have more than Illinois’ 26,775 bridges, of which ASCE reported 8.6% — 2,303 — are structurally deficient. With millions of vehicles crossing these spans each day, it no longer is a matter of whether tragedy will strike. Without a solution, it’s inevitable, and in addition to the billions of dollars to repair and rebuild, it will cost human lives.

Compounding the problem is that FY2018-2023 MYP reduces more than $1 billion in available funding over the life of the plan. Meanwhile, roads continue to deteriorate, and ASCE estimates drivers will pay $4.8 billion in annual repairs to vehicles driven on those roads.

This leaves two questions: One, how can the needed repairs be paid for, and two, how soon can this happen?

Enter the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which is backing a bill introduced by state Rep. Andre M. Thapedi, D-Chicago, to raise $2 billion in annual revenue for transportation funding.

HB 3823 would eliminate the state’s sales tax on gasoline, a tax that is charged on top of the state’s gas tax, and raise the gas tax by 15 cents. Eliminating the tax on a tax stands to save drivers money as the price of gasoline — and the total paid to fill a tank — increases. The bill also would get rid of the Commercial Distribution Fee, a key move to keep the trucking industry from being hurt by the increase in the gas tax.

In addition, the measure would direct the secretary of state to develop tiered registration fees for cars based on the model year of the vehicle. This would allow people who drive older vehicles, who may drive less or have lower incomes, to pay less to register their automobiles. It also puts Illinois in line with states such as Iowa, Missouri and Michigan, which already have tiered registration.

This revenue is critical for state infrastructure. The Illinois Department of Transportation would see an increase of $600 million in funding, and $240 million would be allocated to local governments, a 40% increase. Transit programs would receive $670 million.

Perhaps most importantly, HB 3823 would bond $4 billion in funding for IDOT to allow desperately needed work to begin immediately to address a situation that is becoming more dire by the day.

The timing of this measure is crucial. Further delays in funding now will leave fewer days to work this construction season and will lead to increased costs as the price of materials and labor climbs over time.

That the Illinois Chamber of Commerce has taken an active role in a tax increase signifies its importance.

“We do not take tax increases lightly,” said Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch. “If no significant investment is made in state transportation funding, nearly 40% of road miles and 20% of bridges will be in unacceptable condition by 2022.”

This measure will not address the entire gap created by politicians dipping into transportation funding for other needs, but it would be an important first step. And the Safe Roads amendment will keep the money where it needs to be.

The bill now is in the House Rules Committee, where negotiations are ongoing. Should the bill make it out of committee, it is our hope that lawmakers will see its benefits, recognize the efforts made to accommodate businesses and ultimately support passage.

The lives of drivers and passengers on our highways and bridges depend on it.

___

April 14, 2019

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Gov. Pritzker was right to sign ‘Tobacco 21’

When you look at the issue logically, the arguments against Illinois raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 go up in smoke. The bill signed last week by Gov. J.B. Pritzker goes into effect July 1.

Illinois is the first Midwestern state to increase the minimum age to purchase tobacco products. The law covers cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes, chewing tobacco and other goods containing nicotine.

The arguments against? We’ve heard them before … both of them.

Young men and women only have to be 18 to vote. You only have to be 18 to enlist in the armed forces. Opponents of the bill argue that if a person is mature enough to vote, or can put their life on the line for their county, they should be able to light up.

Granted, if logic were based solely on uniformity, that would be a persuasive argument.

In this instance, reality and health issues overshadow uniformity.

The second argument — “This law won’t stop people who really want to smoke from getting cigarettes.”

That’s absolutely correct. No law has ever eliminated crime.

Judeo-Christian tradition tells us that Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Horeb thousands of years ago. Among the commandments are edicts against killing, theft, disobeying parents and adultery.

If Divine laws can’t stop wrongdoing, what chance does the State of Illinois have?

But, that doesn’t mean government abdicates its directive of creating a better, healthier world for its citizens. The goal of this law is not to make scofflaws of 18- to 20-year-olds. It is not to put underage smokers behind bars.

The law is an attempt to keep cigarettes out of the hands of teenagers and young adults for as long as possible. Most smokers pick up the habit well before the age of 18. And, many smokers proclaim they can quit anytime they want.

Yet, most ex-smokers talk about the difficulty of kicking the habit. And, it’s difficult to find a smoker who celebrates beginning the habit.

The toll smoking takes on our society is incredible.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States. That number includes 41,000 people who die from exposure to second-hand smoke.

Those numbers represent about one in five deaths annually, about 1,300 deaths every day. In addition, on average nonsmokers live 10 years longer than smokers. In addition, the American Lung Association tells us that 95 percent of adult smokers begin the habit before the age of 21.

Clearly this is a public health issue that fits within the purview of the state’s powers — like limiting the age for alcohol consumption and requiring persons to wear seat belts.

This is actually the second time the Illinois General Assembly has passed the law.

The bill passed last year only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner. While Rauner agreed that smoking is detrimental to the health of Illinoisans, he cited economic consequences of the bill in his veto message.

Rauner said the law would force smokers in border areas to purchase cigarettes in Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa or Wisconsin. That certainly would have happened, but it’s difficult to imagine businesses staying afloat solely on cigarette sales to customers aged 18 to 20.

“This is about the health of our youth and the longevity of our citizens,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker at the signing ceremony, “and if there are young people who will travel over state lines to buy tobacco products because they can legally buy them there, thin I urge the surrounding states to pass ‘Tobacco 21.'”

We agree.

This law will not eradicate underage smoking. But, if it slows the rate of smoking in the state, it’s well worth the effort.

___

April 13, 2019

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Pritzker shouldn’t use tax money to sell referendum

If a school district — or any local government, for that matter — overtly promoted a bond issue that required voter approval, it would be drawn and quartered.

That’s against the law, and so when Barrington Unit District 220 recently held a referendum for one, school officials were careful to ensure that any publicity that was underwritten by the government was strictly informational, in tone as well as word.

Contrast that with the messaging you and we are financing through Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office. As one example: a “Fair Tax Calculator” on the Illinois government website that begins with the message, “Governor Pritzker is making good on his promise to protect working families and make our system more fair. With a fair tax, 97 percent of taxpayers will see some tax relief.”

Sounds more than a little promotional, wouldn’t you agree?

That’s just one example of a progressive income tax campaign that taxpayers are funding even before the amendment makes it to the ballot.

The governor has been traveling around the state, presumably on official business — in other words, at considerable taxpayer expense — touting his proposed amendment.

Is he trying to persuade legislators, an accepted part of the political dynamic? To be sure. The referendum for the constitutional amendment cannot get on the 2020 ballot unless they put it there,

But a “Fair Tax Calculator” is not on his website in order to help convince legislators that they’ll see cuts in their taxes. It’s there to persuade the voters, who will have to vote “yes” on a referendum if this change in Illinois’ tax structure is to take place.

Our question: Why is the governor allowed to use tax money to promote a referendum question when local governments aren’t?

While we’re at it, let’s ask another question: Why does the government get to apply a blatant marketing label to the issue?

“Fair tax” is a description that’s hardly detached. What’s fair is open to debate and point of view. Proponents of a flat national sales tax also call their proposal a “fair tax” and it’s, in effect, regressive.

So which is the fair tax? The progressive one or the regressive one?

There’s only one reason for Pritzker to brand his proposal as a “fair tax:” to subliminally promote voter support. Who, after all, would want to consider themselves unfair?

Our point isn’t to take a position on the proposal. There’s much thoughtful and deliberate research to do before getting to that point.

But if the government is asking us, as voters, to consider this proposal, shouldn’t the government be obligated to describing it in objective terms? Shouldn’t the government call it what it is: a graduated income tax, a phrase with no loaded connotation, good or bad?

Associated Press

Associated Press

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