The folks who would renovate Illinois' highways are pushing for more money to bust through the backlog of road repairs, but they want to use gasoline taxes that would make Illinois gas rise from the current $2.70 a gallon to $3.21.
The Illinois Economic Policy Institute — a group of contractors, union leaders and fellow highway travelers — just issued a report stating Illinois faces 3,300 miles worth of immediate road repair needs, up from 1,700 miles of road repair in 2000. They put the price tag at $4.6 billion a year.
To get that money they projected that Illinois' gasoline tax of 34 cents per gallon would need to rise to 85 cents per gallon. Smaller, more efficient cars have Illinois motorists averaging $65 a year less in motor fuel taxes than they did in 1999.
Illinois already has the 11th-highest gas tax in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation. An 85-cent tax would put us at No. 1, well ahead of current gas gouger Pennsylvania at 58 cents a gallon.
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They did offer lawmakers an alternative in their study and in testimony before an Illinois House committee recently: Hike license plate fees from $101 to $578 to generate the road repair money.
There are a few problems with this financial U-turn. First, the institute's numbers are way more than the Illinois Department of Transportation says it needs in added money to adequately maintain the state's highways. IDOT projects $1.5 billion a year, not $4.6 billion.
Second, Illinois voters in 2016 overwhelmingly changed the state's constitution to stop lawmakers from raiding road funds for their other needs. A year into the change, neither proponents nor opponents of the lockbox yet know how it is changing road finances.
There are alternatives to putting Illinois No. 1 for another tax rate. Lawmakers better proceed with caution.