Transportation Tax Protection Constitutional Amendment Fends Off Cook County’s Attempt to Continue to Divert Cash (for Financing the Cook County Jail, for instance)

The sign used to promote the Transportation Lock Box Constitutional Amendment.

Here’s the guts of the Illinois Supreme Court decision Friday affirming the plain language of the 2016 Constitutional Amendment, passed with an 80% vote, to ensure money raised for transportation purposes is spent that way:

Opinion

In 2016, an amendment shielding transportation funding from other uses was added to the state revenue article of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IX, § 11(a)), commonly known as the transportation taxes and fees lockbox
amendment or safe roads amendment (Amendment).

The Amendment safeguards proceeds from transportation-related bond proceeds, taxes, fees, excises, and license taxes to ensure that such proceeds are only used for transportation-related purposes. See id.

In 2018, plaintiffs, a coalition of contracting firms in the public transportation construction and design industry, filed suit in the circuit court of Cook County for declaratory and injunctive relief against the County of Cook (County), asserting that the County was impermissibly diverting revenues generated from six transportation-related ordinances that, pursuant to the Amendment, should have been used only toward certain delineated transportationrelated purposes.

Following the County’s filing of a combined motion to dismiss under section 2-619.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2018)), the circuit court dismissed the complaint, finding that plaintiffs lacked
standing and that the complaint failed to state a violation of the Amendment.

The appellate court reversed on the issue of standing but affirmed the circuit court’s determination that no violation of the Amendment had been stated, albeit for different reasons. 2021 IL App (1st) 190396, ¶ 4.

We allowed plaintiffs’ petition for leave to appeal. See Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Oct. 1, 2020).

Conclusion

Because plaintiffs have associational standing and the moneys derived from the Cook County Transportation Taxes are subject to the Amendment, we reverse the circuit court’s dismissal of the complaint. The case is thus remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this court’s opinion.

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FN

We also squarely reject the County’s improper attempt to influence our decision by arguing that our holding will require an increase in Cook County taxes. See Jorgensen v. Blagojevich, 211 Ill. 2d 286, 316 (2004) (stating that “[n]o principle of law permits us to suspend constitutional requirements for economic reasons”).

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From McHenry County Blog 2/27/17:

Half-Paid from McDOT Funds, Franks Patronage Worker Gets Department Tour

Posted on  by Cal Skinner

A Friend of McHenry County Blog filed a Freedom of Information Request with county government on February 2nd asking for “any documents that show Oliver Serafini worked at the Department of Transportation this January.”

You can read the reply below:

Oliver Serafini’s “work” for the McHenry County Department of Transportation during January, 2017.

Again, I ask whether the new “Lock Box” constitutional amendment prohibits what appears to be a ghost payroller on the McDOT payroll: [Emphasis added]

Section 11. Transportation Funds

The sign used to promote the Transportation Lock Box Constitutional Amendment.

(a) No moneys, including bond proceeds, derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes relating to registration, title, or operation or use of vehicles, or related to the use of highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or to fuels used for propelling vehicles, or derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes relating to any other transportation infrastructure or transportation operation, shall be expended for purposes other than as provided in subsections (b) and (c).

(c) The costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation shall be limited to direct program expenses related to the following: the enforcement of traffic, railroad, and motor carrier laws; the safety of highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, or airports; and the construction, reconstruction, improvement, repair, maintenance, operation, and administration of highways, under any related provisions of law or any purpose related or incident to, including grade separation of highways and railroad crossings. The limitations to the costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation under this subsection (c) shall also include direct program expenses related to workers’ compensation claims for death or injury of employees of the State’s transportation agency; the acquisition of land and the erection of buildings for highway purposes, including the acquisition of highway rights-of-way or for investigations to determine the reasonable anticipated future highway needs; and the making of surveys, plans, specifications, and estimates for the construction and maintenance of flight strips and highways. The expenses related to the construction and maintenance of flight strips and highways under this subsection (c) are for the purpose of providing access to military and naval reservations, defense-industries, defense-industry sites, and sources of raw materials, including the replacement of existing highways and highway connections shut off from general use at military and naval reservations, defense-industries, and defense-industry sites, or the purchase of rights-of-way.

(d) None of the revenues described in subsection (a) of this Section shall, by transfer, offset, or otherwise, be diverted to any purpose other than those described in subsections (b) and (c) of this Section.

(e) If the General Assembly appropriates funds for a mode of transportation not described in this Section, the General Assembly must provide for a dedicated source of funding.

(f) Federal funds may be spent for any purposes authorized by federal law.

State Rep. Jack Franks was a co-sponsor of this constitutional amendment, HJRCA 36.


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