FILE - Road work, infrastructure, construction

When governors present balanced state budgets, a new report found they are often leaving out the cost of infrastructure repairs, omissions that can lead to potholes and other problems along with big bills in future budgets.

The nonprofit Volcker Alliance, as part of a larger series of studies on government transparency, estimated deferred maintenance costs to be as high as $873 billion. Those costs were either obscured or deferred in state budgets, the report found.

“Combined with a reported federal backlog of $170 billion, the national total deferred maintenance cost may be at least $1 trillion,” according to the report.

The biggest reason was a lack of transparency regarding infrastructure spending compared with other types of spending.

“It’s certainly a bad habit, whether it’s willful or just neglect,” Volcker Executive Vice President William Glasgall said. “States are very scattershot.” 

Illinois, Glasgall said, has done better recently with defined infrastructure spending. The state’s $45 billion infrastructure plan sets dollar amounts, appropriations and assigns authority to manage the implementation in the Capital Development Board and other organizations. 

Other studies have found the state has relegated infrastructure spending to the political winds.

In 2010, another study referenced in the Volcker paper found “Illinois’s technical practices for capital budgeting ... were replaced by nonaccounting approaches, such as incremental appropriation, interactive discussions in priority ranking, and internal negotiations among policymakers,” it said. “Departments usually ranked identified projects based on each agency’s own criteria and did not use technical practices in prioritization.”

This history of poor infrastructure tracking is what Glasgall said begat the infrastructure bill and tax hikes to pay for it.

“The reason why the gas tax went up was because there was a lot of maintenance that has been ignored or deferred,” he said. 

The Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan is largely funded by doubling the state’s motor fuel tax from 19 cents to 38 cents per gallon in July.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.