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Rank projects before spending our tax money
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 4/20/2009 12:13 AM

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The next month and a half will be an interesting time in Springfield. Yes, it usually is as the legislative session draws to a close. But this year, the old governor is out and indicted, and a new governor promising change and reform is in the Executive Mansion.

Will the General Assembly approve reform measures in the wake of the Blagojevich mess? Ask any of them, and they'll say it's time we cleaned up Springfield. But will those words translate into action and votes?

With that in mind, we think there is a bill that needs to be passed in the spirit of reform and in the interest of spending our transportation money wisely. It especially is important this year as Gov. Patrick Quinn and state legislative leaders consider various tax increases to pay for all the work that has been ignored and needs to be done.

If Springfield wants more of our money then they need to change the process in how they spend it.

That's the essence of legislation sponsored chiefly by state Rep. Kathy Ryg, a Vernon Hills Democrat, and co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Sidney Mathias of Buffalo Grove. They have the backing of the planning groups Chicago Metropolis 2020 and the Metropolitan Planning Council.

"There is no decent system for making capital decisions in Illinois," said George A. Ranney, president and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020. "Billions of dollars are spent on unfounded decisions or political decisions."

And there lies the rub for legislators. Getting transportation dollars spent back home is a time-honored political tradition. Some of our elected leaders may not want to give up that power.

In actuality, they won't give all that power up. But it will be harder for backroom, last-minute deals on transportation projects to go through with this legislation. The goal, as transportation writer Marni Pyke wrote last week, is to fund projects that are clearly needed, improve safety, create jobs, offer regional benefits, improve the environment, reduce congestion and enhance not just roads but also public transit.

All lofty ideas. How they determine this is still to be decided. But there would be experts from regional metropolitan planning organizations from across the state along with state roads and tollway representative making recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly.

If changes are made to those recommendations - and this is key - the reasons would need to be publicly reported.

"The measure actually invites participation from all areas of the state," Ryg said, adding that it also promotes "accountability and transparency."

Transparency is a favored buzzword these days. Many say they want it. Here's an example of a bill that will help deliver it. Yes, this legislation may mean that more money actually comes to the Chicago area and the suburbs in particular. Yes, that's good for our readers. But that money would come here because a detailed process determined it was needed, not because a powerful legislator bargained for it.