Opinion: Don’t raise Illinois gas taxes

SHARE Opinion: Don’t raise Illinois gas taxes
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Illinois legislators have proposed raising the tax on gasoline to fund the construction and repair of roads and bridges.

Illinois drivers already pay $4 billion every year in state, federal and local taxes on motor fuel. Yet there continues to be a strong push to pass a motor fuel tax hike as part of a capital construction program or as a standalone revenue generator for the state. With Illinois having some of the highest gas prices in the Midwest, increasing the tax on gasoline for consumers is simply not the answer.

OPINION

We agree that the state’s current infrastructure needs repair; however, we disagree with our opponents who say this should happen through higher taxes and fees such as raising the motor fuel tax and other driving costs. Proponents of the gas tax increase say we need the money to fix our transportation infrastructure. However, we already have an allocated state Road Fund that’s supposed to go toward these renovations; it’s not being used properly. This practice goes back many years. Illinois Auditor General William Holland released areport in 2013 detailing how the state spent less than half of its dedicated road fund dollars directly on road construction costs in eight of the last 10 fiscal years.

This past spring, the Legislature reached an agreement on a bipartisan fund sweeps package to help fix the $1.6 billion budget shortfall. The largest sweep in there wiped $250 million out of the Road Fund, and swept $50 million from the Motor Fuel Tax Fund. This money was supposed to be used for road construction. Why should Illinois consumers have to pay for the mismanagement of funds?

Recent proposals have called for Illinoisans to pay $11 per month out of their own pockets in gas tax and vehicle-registration fees. The same proposal calls for higher drivers’ license and vehicle-registration fees and increased taxes on food and prescription drugs. Continuing to burden Illinois consumers with higher taxes won’t help Illinois prosper and become the economic force we once were.

The fact of the matter is, the cost of gasoline is unpredictable. In these summer months ahead, we could have Illinois taxpayers paying higher motor fuel taxes while gas prices start soaring. How can we leave this up to chance for Illinois residents?

Illinois cannot afford to lose needed revenue to other states. We need to do whatever we can to keep consumers buying products in Illinois; it generatesmore tax money for our state and local communities that we desperately need. This includes gas stations and convenience stores. When people visit gas stations, often times they purchase add-on items like cigarettes, soda, lottery tickets and food. If we impose higher taxes on gasoline and food, consumers will choose to go across the border to avoid higher costs in Illinois.

It’s clear that Illinois has collected the funds needed to meet road-construction needs. Illinoisans are already paying more than 50 cents per gallon in taxes. Asking Illinois consumers for $11 a month when they already paid into the fund that should be doing the job is unfair. Instead of pushing a proposal that would tax Illinoisans even further, we must use the money we already have. We can’t penalize Illinois citizens for the irresponsible use of funds.

Bill Fleischli is the executive vice president of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association and the Illinois Association of Convenience Stores (IPMA-IACS).

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