Lawmaker says gas tax will be last resort for funding infrastructure bill

Lawmaker says gas tax will be last resort for funding infrastructure bill

ILLINOIS (IRN) — The lawmaker who is expected to lead an Illinois House transportation committee said the state needs an infrastructure plan to address aging roads and bridges across the state said that all other funding options will be considered before talk turns to higher taxes.

During his inaugural address, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said it’s time for an infrastructure plan.

“Railways, roads, bridges and freshwater arteries are on the verge of collapse,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said it’s not just about safety, but also about quality of life for travelers who find congestion on highways or delays on railways. The new governor didn’t elaborate on how to pay for it in his inaugural speech Monday, but has previously said that all options would be on the table, including a gas tax increase.

The Illinois Economic Policy Institute said last year that roads in Illinois are so bad that motor fuel taxes should be set as high as 85 cents per gallon in addition to raising vehicle registration fees from $101 yearly to $578 a year. The national Tax Foundation puts Illinois’ tax per gallon in 2017 eleventh highest at 34 cents. Increasing Illinois’ gas tax to 85 cents a gallon would make it nearly one-and-a-half times Pennsylvania’s 58 cents a gallon.

Last month, outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for the gas tax to be increased by up to 30 cents per gallon. That sparked concerns that lawmakers were going to try to pass a capital spending plan during the lame-duck session.

State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, who is expected to lead a House committee on infrastructure, said he’s glad a bill wasn’t rushed through because a thorough debate is needed on the issue.

He said there’s a lot of talk about taxes.

“I think the most responsible thing to do is see what we can do without a gas tax increase,” Evans said. “What funds we can look to to make sure we exhaust all possible things before any new tax increases? That’s always the best way and then we’ll look at it. What that number will be, it’s all different numbers from all different agencies, so we’ll see.”

Evans expects not just the state, but for the federal government to focus on infrastructure, which could mean more federal dollars for Illinois projects.

Taxpayers United of America President Jim Tobin is opposed to any gas tax increase.

“A lot of the money in the road fund is being diverted to [Chicago’s Transportation Authority] that runs around empty buses on Oak Park Avenue during the rush hour,” Tobin said. “In the past, billions of dollars have been diverted from the road fund to general spending to cover primarily salaries and pensions.”

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said such dollars need to be properly allocated by local public transportation jurisdictions. But, he said it’s clear policymakers need to act.

“As somebody who drives a fair amount and also takes a lot of public transit, I’ve seen the state of infrastructure and I think we need to get on the problem now,” Guzzardi said.

It’s unclear when an infrastructure bill would come to light and debated in committee, as such committees have yet to be announced.