By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Transportation is disputing an audit report that says less than half of state road money is being used as intended.
The department disputes the percentage, saying 25 percent of the state’s road fund was spent on other parts of state government.
Paris Ervin, IDOT spokeswoman, said a calculation that “less than half” of the road money went to building roads fails to tell the entire story.
“Approximately 75 percent of the road fund is spent on IDOT expenses, which includes safety, snow plowing, road safety programs, such as seat belt enforcement, construction maintenance,” Ervin said in an email.
llinois Auditor General William Holland released the report Tuesday.
Over the past decade, it says, Illinois used the road fund to pay for pensions, employee health care, workers compensation claims and salaries of state troopers and bureaucrats in other parts of state government.
“In eight of the last ten fiscal years, less than half of road fund expenditures went for direct road construction costs,” the report says.
Ervin did say 25 percent of the road fund’s $25 billion, about $6.2 billion, was spent on other parts of Illinois’ sprawling state government.
Since Gov. Pat Quinn took office in 2011, she said, state government has limited its extra-curricular use of road fund money.
But the AG’s report shows less than half the dollars from the road fund went to building roads in 2011 and 2012.
If the cash was not going toward new roads, then where was it going?
The audit says millions of dollars went to prop-up Illinois’ employee health care system and the state’s workers’ compensation fund.
“Auditors estimated that the total overpayment by the road fund for group health insurance in FY10 and FY11 was approximately $156.6 million,” the report states.
Illinois’ employee health care system is deeply in debt; the state owes nearly $1 billion for past due bills and has struggled to pay the cost for covering nearly 30,000 state workers.
The road fund was also used for Illinois’ much maligned workers’ compensation system.
The state took $54 million more than it should have from the road fund from 2010 to 2012 and sent it to the workers’ comp system, the audit says, and in 2011 the fund paid nearly $51 million of the total $87 million in Illinois’ workers’ compensation system.
State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said the audit makes it clear Illinois has used the road fund like a credit card.
“The audit has confirmed my suspicions that the majority of revenue in the Road Fund has been used for purposes other than road construction,” Brady said.
IDOT has not said how — or if — it would stop state government from raiding the road fund.
Brady said Illinois has to live within its means.
“Ensuring a strong physical infrastructure is an integral part of putting Illinois back on track,” Brady added. “And the only way we can do that is to make sure that these funds are actually being used for their intended purpose.”
Contact Benjamin Yount at [email protected] and find him on Twitter @BenYount.