A coalition of trade groups representing road building contractors have sued Cook County, asking a judge to order the county to spend more money on maintaining and improving its roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure, because the county, the lawsuit says, has detoured nearly $250 million that the groups assert should have been spent only on transportation projects.

According to the complaint, filed March 6, in Cook County Circuit Court, the county is obligated under the recently approved “Safe Roads Amendment” to the Illinois state constitution to spend any money collected from taxes and fees on transportation, solely on transportation work and projects.

John M. Fitzgerald
John M. Fitzgerald | Tabet DiVito Rothstein

Yet, the complaint said, since voters approved the amendment in 2016, the county has diverted tax money the coalition contends should be spent on public transportation to the county’s Public Safety Fund, which is used to help fund operations and projects at various county offices associated with the criminal justice system, including the sheriff’s office, state’s attorney, public defender and clerk of the circuit court.

And, the complaint asserts, the county has refused to explain to the coalition how the county actually spent the money allegedly diverted to the Public Safety Fund.

“Cook County’s transportation infrastructure is failing, and the County is not prepared to modernize its transportation infrastructure to meet the needs of the future,” the coalition says in its complaint. “Despite these realities, the County continues to underfund transportation initiatives. Instead, to plug gaps in its budget, the County diverts revenue from transportation-related purposes in violation of Article IX, Section 11 of the Illinois Constitution (the ‘Safe Roads Amendment.’)”

Plaintiffs in the action include the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association; the Federation of Women Contractors; the Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers; Associated General Contractors of Illinois; Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association; Illinois Ready Mixed Concrete Association; Great Lakes Construction Association; American Council of Engineering Companies Illinois Chapter; Chicagoland Associated General Contractors; Underground Contractors Association of Illinois; and Illinois Concrete Pipe Association.

The complaint specifically targets six county taxes, including four automobile-related taxes which the complaint says the county expects to collectively bring in nearly $240 million in fiscal year 2017.

The county estimated its Home Rule Use Tax, which slaps a levy of 1 percent on the sale price of retail titled or registered property, particularly automobiles, will draw in $81 million in county coffers; its tax on gasoline and diesel would bring in $91.5 million; its transfer tax on non-retail auto sales would generate $20 million; and the county tax on paid parking spots would generate an additional $47.3 million, according to the complaint.

The complaint said the county has parked all of that money in the Public Safety Fund, without explaining how the money would be applied toward county transportation needs.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the county’s budgeting decision has violated the Safe Roads Amendment and to bar the county from depositing the money from those taxes into the Public Safety Fund, and instead spend the money on transportation projects, while providing “a line-item accounting of how the County allocates or appropriates revenue derived from the Cook County Transportation Revenue Ordinances.”

The plaintiff organizations are represented in the action by attorneys John M. Fitzgerald and Amanda N. Catalano, of the firm of Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC, of Chicago.

A county spokesperson declined comment, saying the county does not comment on ongoing litigation.

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