Thursday, February 5, 2009

New IL Governor wants Illinois lawmakers to vote for billions of dollars worth of construction spending by April 3

8-cent gas tax could finance state construction
By Dan Carden | Daily Herald StaffContact writer

SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday he wants Illinois lawmakers to vote for billions of dollars worth of construction spending by April 3 - a tab some say should be covered by a hike in the state's gas tax.

The governor would not say how much money Illinois should spend on road, bridge and school building, or how the state would pay for it. But some lawmakers are making the case that gas taxes should be raised 8 cents a gallon to possibly finance $7 billion worth of construction.

The state's gas tax is currently 19 cents per gallon, but Illinois drivers also pay federal tax, state sales tax and local gas taxes that vary depending on where they fill up. It adds up to an average of more than 50 cents per gallon in taxes.

McHenry County Republican state Rep. Mike Tryon said the Illinois gas tax is already unfair with the sales tax tacked on. Even higher taxes could be detrimental to transportation businesses and commuters suffering from the economic downturn.

"I think it's a very difficult decision to make when you're one of the states that has the highest gas tax in the country," Tryon said. "I think people need to think about the damage that's going to do."

State Rep. Tim Schmitz, a Batavia Republican, was similarly hesitant.

"Four dollar a gallon gasoline is still stuck in my mind. Because it's knocked down to a buck 95 today all of sudden everyone says, 'this isn't that bad.' Well it is that bad. It's a very volatile commodity," Schmitz said.

Rep. John Bradley, a Marion Democrat, is sponsoring the gas tax increase, saying people who use the roads should pay for them. House Speaker Michael Madigan supports Bradley's plan.

"We can't get the infrastructure improvements we need without paying the cost, and we can't always expect someone else to shoulder that cost," Bradley said. "If we're going to do things in government we have to have a way to pay for it."

State Sen. Kirk Dillard said he's got an open mind when it comes to raising funds to fix the state's "crumbling roads." But the Hinsdale Republican wants an exchange. He'd support raising the motor fuel tax and phasing out the state sales tax on gas.

The sales tax "goes mostly to welfare and none goes to roads, bridges and mass transit," Dillard said. The motor fuel tax is directed into transportation spending and would be a more appropriate source of construction funding, he explained.

Quinn wouldn't commit to, or rule out, a gas hike.

"I think we need to have a fair way, an understandable and clear way, and a swift way, to make sure we pay for the bonds," Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, told reporters after a closed-door meeting with Republican lawmakers.

Those Republicans have made construction spending a priority in recent years.

Apparently off the table is former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's idea of leasing the Illinois Lottery to finance a nearly $34 billion construction spending spree. Quinn said of the lottery deal, "I'm not excited about that one."

Illinois can also get an extra $6 billion from the federal government for transportation projects if the legislature approves matching funds.

"We don't want to be the pothole capital of the United States," Quinn said.

The most recent construction spending plan - Illinois FIRST - was approved in 1999 and spent $12 billion over five years largely on roads, schools and public transit. Blagojevich and legislative leaders could never work out how to pay for a new capital plan or what to spend the money on.


Subject: *
Your Name: *
E-mail Address: *
Message: *

* Required