Senate OKs extra IDOT spending for fuel, salt

Doug Finke

Rising fuel prices and a harsh winter have hit the Illinois Department of Transportation to the tune of $20 million.

A supplemental spending bill approved by the state Senate Thursday includes money to cover the higher fuel costs, road salt, overtime for snowplow drivers and pothole repairs.

“We used twice as much road salt this winter,” said IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey.

Normally, the state will run through about 250,000 tons a year. The extra 250,000 tons cost IDOT $8.3 million.

Another $7.4 million is needed to cover higher fuel costs, not just from the rising prices themselves, but because more frequent winter storms sent plow crews out on the road more often, piling up the miles. It also cost $400,000 in overtime expenses for “snowbirds,” drivers who work only through winter months to help regular crews plow snow.

The problem for IDOT is that the funding is included in a supplemental spending bill that also expands health-care programs at a cost of $53 million through June 30 and adds back $50 million in House Democrat pet projects that were cut from the budget last fall.

In total, the supplemental increases state spending this year by $134 million, even though the governor’s office says the current budget is already in the red by $750 million.

Senate Democrats want to pay for the additional spending, and help close the deficit, by allowing Gov. Rod Blagojevich to take $530 million out of hundreds of state funds set aside for special purposes and not funded with general state tax dollars. On Thursday, they pushed through a bill authorizing the fund “sweeps” and the supplemental spending bill.

Both now go to the House, where a spokesman for Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has called the Senate Democrats’ plan “delusional.”

Claffey said if the House doesn’t approve more money for IDOT, the agency will have to scrimp in other areas. He did not specify where.

“It will be more of a challenge to us,” he said.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.