By Ray Long
SPRINGFIELD Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to pump about
$1 billion into the state's road system over the next three
years through a bond program to be paid off with future revenue,
a move critics suggested would pass major costs on to future
Tim Martin, secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation,
said the goal of the program is to put people to work now
rather than wait several years and to target projects that
help spur additional economic development.
"If you build some road expansion projects today versus
five or six years from now ... you stimulate the construction
jobs today," Martin said.
The $1 billion would be used on projects started over the
next three fiscal years, but the bulk of the payments on the
bonds would not likely be made until "2010 and beyond,"
The payments would be made with future road-fund revenue,
such as gas taxes and license-plate fees, Martin said. He
compared the maneuver to taking out a home-equity loan on
But state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin), a point person
on budget issues, said the more apt comparison is a family
"willing to buy a third or fourth car for their household
without trying to find a second job."
"No one has ever bonded the future, put tomorrow on
a credit card, like this administration," said Rauschenberger,
a U.S. Senate candidate.
The new road bond plan, which Blagojevich will detail more
fully later this month, also follows harsh criticism from
lawmakers who have maintained the governor diverted hundreds
of millions of dollars from the road fund to help balance
the current budget.
Rauschenberger contended the road bonds would merely replace
dollars that the governor has already diverted.
As Blagojevich prepares to unveil the road bonds, state transportation
officials also face uncertainty over how much money they will
get from the federal government's six-year plan.
President Bush and Congress have been wrangling over how
much money should go to the states since late last year, and
they are tens of billions of dollars apart.
State officials had counted on the federal plan to kick in
as the state's five-year Illinois FIRST plan, begun under
former Gov. George Ryan, came to a close.
But with the state's budget problems and the lingering questions
over federal dollars, Martin said the state decided to extend
its traditional five-year road plan to seven years.
The decision means some projects that would have been cut
from a five-year plan would remain in the seven-year plan,
"If we go through [with] cutting the projects, it will
be just a hellacious session" with the legislature this
spring, Martin said. It would create parochial wars among
lawmakers over why projects in some legislative districts
were cut and others weren't.
But Rauschenberger was concerned that the seven-year plan
potentially could slow down some key projects.