SPRINGFIELD -- Increasing fuel taxes to pay for Illinois road construction will hurt businesses -- and hit consumers at the pump, gas station owners said Monday.
A transportation advocacy group wants to hike the motor fuel tax by 4 cents a gallon as a way to fund a new statewide road-building program that would replace a $31 billion, five-year program expiring this year.
The last time the motor-fuel tax was increased to benefit transportation purposes was 1990. But gasoline retailers say the answer is not a tax hike, particularly in a sour economy when gasoline already costs $4 a gallon.
"This tax, as a retailer, would be pushed to the consumer. We as retailers live in penny profits and cannot afford to absorb this tax," said Amy Chronister Ridley, vice president of Chronister Oil and Qik n EZ Convenience Stores, which operate in the Springfield area.
Ridley appeared with other gas-station owners and the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association at a state Capitol news conference. They oppose a plan by the Transportation for Illinois Coalition to keep the concrete flowing after this summer's expiration of the Illinois Jobs Now construction program, which was adopted under Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
The coalition proposed the changes in a plan unveiled this month: a 4-cent increase on gasoline, a 7-cent hike on diesel fuel, increasing vehicle registration fees, and broadening the sales tax to cover services such as auto work and carwashes. The plan would also end the ethanol credit for gasoline.
Members say the plan would produce $1.8 billion a year for roads, bridges, and public transportation.
"We need to put the brakes on any type of plan to raise the motor fuel tax. Drivers deserve a break, and business owners have suffered enough in recent years," Bill Fleischli, vice president of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association, said during Monday's news conference.
Fleischli said lawmakers should instead stop diverting dollars meant for maintaining roads and bridges into other areas of the budget. Fuel taxes and registration fees go into the road fund, but officeholders have historically raided the account for other expenses -- a practice the Transportation for Illinois Coalition has also resisted.
In presenting its plan, the coalition also called for channeling a majority of driver-related revenues from the state's general budget into the road fund. Its members say the state hasn't put aside money for pay-as-you-go road-fund projects and that's left a hole in the budget for maintaining roads. And gasoline sales tax funding should not go into the general revenue fund, but toward transportation-related projects, the coalition says.
But the coalition also says increasing the state gas tax needs to be part of the state's transportation funding plan going forward.
"The coalition understands paying more at the pump isn't easy. But a modest 4-cents-per-gallon increase will hardly be noticed as prices fluctuate much more regularly," Doug Whitley and Mike Kleinik, coalition co-chairmen, said in a prepared statement Monday.
The prospect for any movement on such a proposal is unclear. Coalition members say they've met with dozens of lawmakers who recognize the importance of transportation infrastructure, but none have come forward to sponsor the legislation. Gov. Pat Quinn in his annual budget address last month said he would form a committee to explore the issue, but Whitley said that simply delays the matter.