Metro-East News

Increase in state gasoline tax could be considered to fund capital infrastructure bill

Pritzker discusses a capital bill

Gov. J.B. Pritzker discusses his desire for a capital bill. He also talks about possible funding sources.
Up Next
Gov. J.B. Pritzker discusses his desire for a capital bill. He also talks about possible funding sources.

A capital bill may be on the horizon for Illinois, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker calling for action on one in this legislative session.

Legislators are supportive, but how it will be paid for is unknown.

“There’s a universal understanding that infrastructure is crumbling across the state — our roads and bridges, our water infrastructure. We need to invest in it,” Pritzker said in an interview prior to being sworn-in. “We’re the supply chain hub of America and in order to maintain that status, in order to create jobs, we have to continue to invest in our infrastructure.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called for a 20-to 30-cent per gallon increase in the state gas tax, up from 19 cents per gallon, in order to pay for a statewide transportation plan. Sales taxes also are applied to fuel sales in the state.

That’s in addition to an 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax, which hasn’t changed since 1993.

Illinois has the 11th-highest gas tax in the country. Pennsylvania has the highest state tax at 58.2 cents per gallon, followed by Washington, Hawaii, New York, Michigan, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, Florida and North Carolina.

Pritzker said he hasn’t decided on where he would stand on an increase in the gas tax.

“I don’t know, I don’t like regressive taxes much, that’s why I proposed a fair tax system for the state,” Pritzker said. “I don’t want to rely too much on regressive taxes, that’s why I’m looking for all the opportunities to piece together the revenue that would be required for an infrastructure bill.

Road Work.JPG
Illinois roads needing immediate repair now total 3,300 miles. How to pay for it and how much it will cost are at issue. Derik Holtmann

Southern Illinois legislators are supportive of the idea of investment in infrastructure, but are skeptical about an increase to the gas tax.

“A gas tax, you might as well just change the name of it from a gas tax to a downstate tax,” said state Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville. “The fact of the matter is, Mayor Emanuel is not going to hesitate to push something like that. A lot of folks that he represents in Chicago, they’re taking public transportation, taking the Metra, they have trains, they have all these things in Chicago that folks in Southern Illinois don’t have. ... A gas tax is a tax on Southern Illinois because we are more rural, more spread out. We travel further for school, we travel further for work, we travel further to visit family.”

Pritzker also has said that there could be an expansion of gaming to help pay for a capital bill.

A different fee

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said he would be in favor of increasing a sticker fee for electric vehicles. In the state, electric vehicles, which wouldn’t be contributing to the gas tax coffers, have lower registration fees than traditional passenger vehicles.

“Electric cars aren’t paying anything for the gas tax,” Meier said. “They’re not paying anything to use our roads and they’re getting cheaper license plates and they’re using the same amount of roads we are.”

“Sometimes a capital bill is all right, but there again I have to see what’s in it, where it’s going and how it’s going to be funded.,” Meier added. “Those in the past have been funded by bonding. You still got to pay it back.”

He said he would be against an increase in the gas tax of 30 cents a gallon, or a mileage tax, which was bantered about during the campaign season.

“If there was a minimal increase in gas tax, maybe I would look at it. I don’t think 30 cents is a minimal increase at all. That’s a major increase,” Meier said.

He said he fears increases in the gas tax could be used to pay for upgrades to the Chicago-area’s commuter train system, Metra.

“I don’t want to pay for Metra upgrades,” Meier said. “We have to drive to work here in Southern Illinois. We’re the ones paying that gas tax.

In the last five fiscal years, Illinois has spent $978.2 million of capital money on Chicago area and collar counties public transit. The rest of the state saw $96.8 million for capital work for public transit, according to figures from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

What projects to work on

State Sen. Rachelle Aud Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, who was recently elected, said she has been meeting with local officials about what their capital priorities would be, which could be shovel ready. Some of those projects could be roads and water and sewer lines that have been neglected.

“Before we start looking at how we’re paying for them, I want to know what it is that we’re trying to pay for.”

She said, however, she would have concerns about increases to the gas tax. She said any increase could further exasperate the practice of people going across the river to buy fuel.

“We also have the unique situation here, and growing up here it’s always been this way, people will cross into Missouri to buy their gas,” Crowe said. “A lot of people, that is just a matter of course for them because they have that cheaper option. We don’t want to compound that issue any further.”

Missouri’s state gasoline tax is cheaper than Illinois’ — 17.3 cents — but Illinois also charges sales tax on gasoline.

Even before being sworn-in, state Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, spoke out against the increase Emanuel has pushed.

“Everyone agrees we need to address Illinois’ infrastructure problems, but raising the gas tax is going to hurt the families in Illinois that can least afford it,” Wilhour said. “Many families in my district live paycheck to paycheck and an increase in the gas tax would hurt them. We cannot afford to increase the gas tax in Illinois.”

MLK ramp
Bridges such as the Martin Luther King Bridge between Illinois and downtown St. Louis , which is now closed for repairs, would be addressed in a state capital development bill. Teri Maddox

Wilhour said legislators need to be deliberate and discuss with federal the level to bring about money while having the least impact on taxpayers.

“There is bipartisan agreement in the importance of spending money on roads on bridges,” Wilhour said. “Not only are there important public safety concerns that need to be addressed, but putting money into transportation can be an important tool for economic development.

“What we need to do is think more strategically about what the needs are, what the costs are, how to pay those costs, and what types of projects actually stimulate sustainable economic growth. With more and more electric cars on the road and other fuel-efficient vehicles — we need to think strategically about how we fund roads in Illinois. Raising the gas tax just because the price of gas is low right now is reactionary, not strategic,” Wilhour said.

Details will be an eventual bill

Details of what would be in a capital bill still need to be worked out.

“We don’t know the conversations, we haven’t been privy to the conversations, of what it will look like,” said state Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Cahokia. “We don’t know what the proposals are, or the ideas of what we’ll be discussing and debating.”

State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, said she needs to study whatever proposals come out.

“We would have to look at what it would impact and what it would generate,” Greenwood said. “You have to look at the arguments and the data and all of that to support, and also, listen to our constituents, and how they feel on the issues as well. “

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, said there may be enough money in the state’s budget to run a $4 billion capital bill without raising taxes.

Schimpf said there may be as much as $40 billion available for the state’s annual spending plan. He said the state could have kept spending to $36.5 billion without inflicting too much discomfort in the state.

“My feeling is I would like to see a capital bill of about $4 billion,” Schimpf said. “I think we could pay for that just with some decreased spending or responsible spending. We do have more revenue coming in, not by increasing taxes, but just by the economic growth the nation has experienced as a whole.”

Schimpf also said there could be room for work on a four-lane highway connecting Carbondale and the metro-east, a long sought after project that he says could be beneficial to the region.

“I’d certainly like to see some work done on the Southwest Illinois connector,” Schimpf said. “Whether it gets done or not, I don’t know. The primary focus ... is to nail down a proposal so that IDOT can evaluate this.”

Having a capital bill may help in bringing federal dollars back to Illinois, said U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois.

“There have been federal dollars available to be spent for Illinois, but could not be because Illinois did not have a budget, and did not come up with our 30 percent of the match, so we lost out on 70 percent of the funding the federal government was willing to put forward, and that’s on infrastructure,” Duckworth said.

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.