Lawmaker proposes increase on gas tax

Proposal would raise tax 8-cents a gallon
February 17, 2009 3:21:39 PM PST
State Senate President John Cullerton wants to increase the state's gasoline tax. Right now, taxes on a gallon of gas add up to 19-cents. Senate President Cullerton said increasing that number is the best way to pay for statewide construction projects when Illinois is expected to face a budget deficit of up to $9 billion.

Illinois has not had a capital program since 2002. Attempts to build one by leasing the state lottery and new casino licenses did not succeed. While the casino idea is not completely off the table, the attention has turned to a hike in the state's tax on gas.

Cullerton is not alone in the plan. Speaker of the House Mike Madigan has signed on as a co-sponsor of a gas tax surcharge.

Since 1992, for each gallon of gas put in the car, motorists pay the state of Illinois 19-cents. But under House Bill 1, motorists would pay an additional eight-cents a gallon. The money would go into a fund called "Grow Illinois" that would be used for debt service and capital improvements.

Luis Arroyo is one of the bill's co-sponsors.

"No tax for the taxpayers of Illinois is easy. We need infrastructure and we need jobs. Everybody's crying for jobs. There's a lot of people getting laid off. We have to do a capital bill," said State Rep. Luis Arroyo, (D) Chicago

Democrats and Republicans agree that the state needs a capital program, but they part company over how to finance it.

" It's completely counterintuitive. I haven't seen where raising people's taxes ever created a job," said State Sen. Matt Murphy, (R) Palatine.

Selling a gas tax hike may not be easy particularly since gas in Illinois is taxed higher than anywhere in the nation. Some legislators say they might be inclined to support another eight cents a gallon, if the sales tax we pay on top of that could be frozen.

"If gas goes up to four dollars a gallon again - which it certainly will - when you're paying ten-percent cents sales tax here in Cook County, you're paying another forty cents. If you would knock off that additional sales tax and have it just for gas, I think people could probably get behind that," said State Rep. Jack Franks, (D) Woodstock.

What proponents will be arguing is that a hike in the state's gas tax will be less burdensome on taxpayers who feel like they're being hit from all sides. That's an argument easier to make now than when gas was more than $4 a gallon.

"The price of gas has been going up and down so much that adding more to it is just going to be harder on everybody," said Laura Rockwell.

"Well it isn't very original, I'll tell you that much. Let's just tax the poor guy some more," said Ed Sauer.

House Bill 1 is in early form. It proposes that the additional money from a higher gas tax go toward a capital program and to debt service.

It's a pretty broad category and there are many legislators who said they'll require specifics before they vote for an increase in the state's gas tax.