Illinois transportation bill set to move forward

SHARE Illinois transportation bill set to move forward
SHARE Illinois transportation bill set to move forward

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Little noticed in the tumult at the close of the spring legislative session were bills in the Illinois House and Senate — now teed up for additional action —for spending on transportation infrastructure.

The sense of urgency for transportation spending languished in the spring under the shadow of pension reform and such social issues as gay marriage and the concealed carrying of guns. But local constituencies such as mayors, village managers and county board members are starting to make the case for dealing with a transportation funding shortfall that is going to come next year. Localgovernment and regional meetings will be held over the rest of the summer to discuss it.

Legislation introduced early in the spring session that would have paid for transportation projects byconsolidating the state sales tax and gasoline tax into new wholesale tax went nowhere.

The new legislation, pushed by the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, instead envisions switching Illinois’ cents-per-gallon tax to a percentage wholesale fuel tax, but that will be up for discussion.

As money from the state’s last capital bill runs out and federal dollars dry up, new revenue must come from somewhere. Neither thefederal nor state cents-per-gallon gasoline tax has been raised in 20 years, so in real dollars those revenue streams have dropped significantly.

Besides being eroded by inflation, the state gasoline tax, known as the motor fuel tax, doesn’t capture revenue from the growing number of electric vehicles or from truck fleets that have converted to compressed natural gas, even though those vehicles also need road infrastructure.

But the risk of a wholesale tax is that if prices drop, revenues could decline to less than the state 19-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax brings in. Also, fuel prices vary significantly around the state.

Illinois’ existing capital bill expires next July. The federal highway bill runs out on Oct. 1, 2014. So supporters of a transportation capital bill believe they have just a year to build a bridge to the next state capital program.

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