ILLINOIS (IRN) — From gambling expansion to a tax based on how many miles you drive, Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker has said he’s open to all ideas to find revenue to pay for infrastructure projects.
Outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner said last month that he’s heard talk that an infrastructure bill could come up during lame duck session in January.
“I’ve been recommending an infrastructure bill – a big one – for four years,” Rauner said. “It’s long overdue. We need to have strong investment in infrastructure in the state of Illinois. We do not need new taxes to pay for it.”
State Rep. Jaime Andrade, D-Chicago, has also heard talk of an infrastructure bill, and said if one passes, there will have to be new revenue from somewhere.
“There is no money right now currently … there has to be revenue,” Andrade said. “What it’s going to be? At this point, there are so many things going around.”
Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn recently told a group at an event in Springfield that there would need to be an increase in the state’s gas tax and vehicle registration fees to pay for road projects.
Rauner has floated suggestions for a number of ways to pay for infrastructure projects without raising taxes.
“We could expand sports gambling, we could just expand gaming, we could expand public-private partnerships, that has been my recommendations,” Rauner said last month after veto session.
Andrade said he’s heard all kinds of revenue ideas, such as fee increases or charging different types of vehicles different amounts for registration.
He said the state’s share of gas taxes is going down because of more fuel-efficient vehicles, and revenue enhancements may be inevitable. But Andrade said the state must focus on paying off its debt first.
“If we get rid of our debt and we get rid of the interest, we could then use all of that money that we’re just wasting away on interest on infrastructure,” Andrade said.
Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Marc Scribner said before increasing the tax burden on taxpayers, state lawmakers should first find efficiencies.
“Before Illinois considers raising its fuel tax rates as neighboring Indiana just did, they should look at the inefficiencies in the current system and work to improve upon those,” Scribner said.
While Scribner said those efficiencies could come from finding savings in the cost of labor, but Illinois is too union-concentrated to address the high costs associated with project labor agreements. Instead, he said Illinois needs to look at saving money on supplies.
“Looking at procurement reform in materials is something Illinois should do,” Scribner said. “I also think they should continue looking at public-private partnerships.”
Scribner said with technological advancements and increased fuel efficiency, he expects down the road some kind of global user pay, user benefit scheme similar to toll roads.
Illinois lawmakers have two days of lame duck session in the new year before Pritzker and a new class of legislators takes over.
“Lame duck sessions tend to get used for controversial votes or unpopular issues like tax hikes,” Rauner said. “So, I think we should all be a little worried about what might happen in a lame duck session.”
State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said regardless when an infrastructure bill comes up, it’s still going to be difficult.
“We need to invest in our infrastructure. That’s an incredibly important item on our list to do. I’m not getting worked up whether it’s in lame duck or our regular session.”
Lame duck session is Jan. 7-8. Democrats then come back with supermajorities and the governor’s office Jan. 9.