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Our state’s road fund is a shell game

Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 8:46 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — It’s the Springfield version of the world’s biggest lies:

“I gave at the office.”

“The check is in the mail.”

“The money will be used to help (fill in the name of voter-friendly entity here, such as schools).”

What ends up happening, though, is that money is diverted at the whim of state officials, as a new audit reminds us this week.

Money gathered from taxes on every gallon of gasoline sold in the state, as well as a fee on license plates, is earmarked for fixing bridges and building and maintaining roads.

During the past decade, those charges — along with federal stimulus money — have amassed $25 billion for the state’s Road Fund.

But the state’s auditor general, William Holland, said money is being routinely taken out of the fund to cover such things as salaries and workers’ compensation and insurance payments.

It isn’t the first time politicians have been caught reaching into this cookie jar. Former Gov. Rod “40892-424” Blagojevich — apparently thinking it was called the Rod Fund — used part of it to fund a summer jobs program in 2008 and was roundly criticized for the action.

The new audit indicates little has changed, despite relatively clear guidelines incorporated into Illinois Compiled Statutes for how the money is to be used.

There are the typical findings in the audit of bureaucratic bumbling — over-billing the fund $156 million for health insurance — and significant bookkeeping mistakes.

The worst part, though, is how little of the money was actually returned to the people in the form of new or improved roads.

“In eight of the last 10 fiscal years, less than half of road fund expenditures went for direct road construction costs,” according to the audit.

Last fiscal year, for example, $1.35 billion of the $2.89 billion collected was spent on direct road construction.

Let’s call that what it is: Stealing from taxpayers who are investing in their own future each time they fill up.

It’s more than a simple annoyance to have to endure the kerchunks of axle-busting potholes. There is the added expense to motorists for vehicle upkeep and the risk of accidents caused by unexpected jolts in the road.

Perhaps the auditor general’s report will open eyes about the extent of the Road Fund shell game. It includes five recommendations for cleaning up this problem.

Lawmakers should start by making sure bureaucrats follow the basic rules of how the money should be spent — and tell them to keep their hands off otherwise.

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This editorial appeared in The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.

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©2013 The Telegraph (Alton, Ill.)

Visit The Telegraph (Alton, Ill.) at www.thetelegraph.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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