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Article updated: 7/23/2013 11:03 PM

Business coalition: Raise gas taxes for road repairs

By Mike Riopell

A coalition of business and labor groups wants to raise more money from gasoline taxes and vehicle fees to pay for the immense costs of keeping Illinois' roads from crumbling.

The Transportation for Illinois Coalition Tuesday detailed for the Daily Herald editorial board a plan to eliminate the state's 19 cents-per-gallon gas tax and replace it with a different 9.5 percent tax on what gas stations pay for fuel.

The result could be higher prices at the pump by more than 13 cents per gallon, but coalition members say the revenue would better reflect changing economic conditions than the current flat fee. It's also intended to produce nearly $800 million a year for construction and maintenance of Illinois roads, bridges and transit.

The state's motor fuel tax people pay at the pump generally goes to pay for Illinois transportation costs and is in addition to sales taxes drivers pay on gasoline.

The coalition proposal would also raise the cost of vehicle registrations by $15. A standard car license plate sticker now costs $101.

Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and a leader of the coalition, said he understands new taxes are unpopular. But he argued maintaining the state's roads and bridges properly is impossible with an Illinois gas tax that hasn't been raised in more than 20 years. The Daily Herald reported in May that one in 12 Chicago-area bridges are rated as "structurally deficient."

"We feel that conversation needs to happen and people need to understand what's at stake," Whitley said.

"The long and short of it is: We need more money," he said.

Getting more money could be a steep battle, though.

Lawmakers and candidates for governor are already facing questions about the state's 2011 income tax increase that rolls back at the end of next year.

What lawmakers choose to do about it is likely be a major topic for debate next year, and the idea of raising gasoline taxes on drivers might not be popular.

The state's 2009 construction plan paid for with video gambling machines, vehicle fees and higher liquor taxes runs out soon, so the coalition wants to put new revenues in place this year.

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