Infrastructure talks could begin

Last capital bill was $27.1B

ILLINOIS (WCIA) -- With the bulk of the budget battle behind them, top lawmakers are setting their sights on a popular infrastructure project to repair and rebuild crumbling highways, roads and bridges across the state.

At a bill signing in Chicago, Governor Bruce Rauner told reporters the top four legislative leaders were planning to stage "budget" meetings Tuesday. Sources, with knowledge of the agenda, say discussions could include preliminary talks aimed at kickstarting a capital budget. The state hasn't passed one since the early days of the Pat Quinn administration. 

Construction workers say the wear and tear is starting to show on the roads. 

"You have got bridges in the state of Illinois that, if the common citizen walked under and looked at the state of the concrete, they would be appalled," said Brad Schaive, union boss for Laborers Local 477, in Springfield.  

Schaive blamed a decline in road construction jobs on the budget impasse. 

"We had a crumbling infrastructure before the logjam of the statehouse. It has done nothing but exponentially made it worse," he said. 

Governor Rauner has flirted with capital construction talks at times during his first term in office, but has yet to deliver one. 

State Senator Sam McCann, a pro-union Republican who is considering whether or not to run a primary challenge against Rauner, says the infrastructure package is long overdue. 

"I believe infrastructure in Illinois has been lacking for attention for quite some time," McCann said. "I think everyone here [in Springfield] agrees that we should have had a capital bill at least two or three years ago." 

The last capital budget included $4 billion in new spending with more than half of it earmarked for highway construction. Capital budget plans are primarily funded through long-term borrowing on the bond market. 

Rauner recently agreed to exercise the authority to borrow $6 billion to begin the process of refinancing the state's backlog of unpaid bills, but still claims the bipartisan budget lawmakers passed against his will is out of balance. 

"We need to come up with half a billion dollars roughly in cuts just to be able to service a bond offering," Rauner said Monday morning. "We don't have that in the budget. The budget was not well through. It is not balanced." 

Rauner did not signal specifically indicate what spending items he would slash from the budget. 

"We're going to try to lower our interest costs by refinancing some debt, but it doesn't solve the problem and it's going to require more cuts in order to service that bond offering." 

Bond borrowing made up 63 percent of the last capital budget passed in Springfield, although it was initially met with challenges in court. 

Several sources familiar with capital budget planning strongly denied rumors of a proposed increase to the state's motor fuel tax. Illinois' last gas tax hike was in 1991.

The Illinois Department of Transportation says in it's multi-year plan, "Without additional revenues, our system continues to deteriorate at a greater rate than the state can keep up with." 

In 2016, voters passed a constitutional amendment in a ballot initiative which places all transportation-related revenues such as fuel taxes, tolls and license plate fees in a "lockbox" designated to be used strictly for transportation spending.

IDOT responded to the amendment in a May 2017 report stating "the department is taking a comprehensive approach to defining what transportation means." 

Comptroller Susana Mendoza's office says the state's Road Fund currently has $986 million in it. The last capital bill also set aside money to spur other state initiatives like higher education, energy projects and other economic development programs. 

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