Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker comments on mileage tax during 2018 campaign
A bill that would test a mileage tax for vehicles driving on state roads has been tabled, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead.
Chicago Democrat Marcus Evans last week filed House Bill 2864, establishing a pilot program for a 2.1-cent tax on every mile a vehicle is driven on state roads.
But Evans tabled the bill Tuesday, saying he wanted to send the message that he’s not going to bring it back this session. “But if someone else wants to find a creative way to do that, then they can.”
As cars become more fuel efficient and more people drive electric vehicles, many states are facing a significant decline in revenue from motor fuel taxes.
These taxes usually support roads, bridges and other infrastructure for vehicular traffic. The purpose of a per-mile vehicle tax would be twofold: to bring back the revenue to support state infrastructure, and to balance taxes to ensure every driver pays a fair share for using those roads.
That said, Evans doesn’t think it’s the right time to legislatively consider a per-mile tax, although Illinois, along with the 27 states that have increased their motor vehicle tax in the past four years, still needs more infrastructure funding.
“This bill needs so much work — why have it out there?” Evans said. “Let’s just talk about the idea, and educate ourselves on what it is first. We can still have conversations, but not for bill purposes.”
To gauge just how much work might be needed before such a bill comes back, Illinois can look at Washington, one of the few states to try a similar pilot program to the one in Evans’ bill.
Reema Griffith is the executive director of Washington’s transportation commission, which oversaw the state’s mileage tax pilot program that ran from January 2018 to January 2019.
She says it took almost six years just to get the pilot program up and running.
“There was a good four years of real regimented peeling of the onion before we ever had money for a pilot,” Griffith said. “What we found out was, yeah, it’s feasible, but there’s 100 different policy challenges you’re going to face.”
On top of that, Griffith said a steering committee spent even more time analyzing the mileage tax from a business perspective.
“We spent two years on that, making a million assumptions on everything from enforcement to compliance to evasion,” Griffiths said, “so we’ve been going quite slow.”
Nonetheless, Washington’s program yielded positive feedback from the 2,000 volunteers testing various methods of data gathering on mileage. And although Griffith’s office has not yet fully analyzed the data, she said the most surprising result was how boring it seemed to be.
“People didn’t really have to do anything,” Griffiths said. “They thought it was going to be much more fun, and busier.”
The issue of a mileage tax is complicated by many factors, including drivers who frequently cross state lines; privacy concerns with GPS-tracking devices; lack of administrative infrastructure to handle the data and enforcement of the tax, and the disproportionate effects the tax would have on urban versus rural vehicles.
Although the idea is a long ways off, it has the apparent backing of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said during a January 2018 interview with the editorial board of the Daily Herald newspaper in suburban Chicago that he was open to testing out the idea.