Tax Illinois drivers by the mile?

A new proposal to pay for fixing Illinois' roads could use devices to track how far Illinois drivers have traveled and tax them by the mile.

The plan from Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, is aimed at gasoline tax revenues that have fallen as drivers have bought more fuel-efficient cars.

Cullerton says cars that get better mileage still create the same wear on roads, so the state needs to find a better way to collect taxes and pay for those repairs.

"If all the cars were electric, there would be no money for the roads," Cullerton said.

Drivers, under the plan, could pick whether a device in their cars monitors their miles one of two different ways. Or they could choose to pay the 1.5-cent-per-mile tax on a base 30,000 miles traveled per year, if they have privacy concerns.

One device would track where specifically drivers go and not charge them when they travel out of state or on Illinois toll roads. The other would simply monitor the odometer reading, not tracking the rest of the information.

Illinois drivers would get a refund for gasoline tax costs paid at the pump, Cullerton said. Out-of-state drivers not registered here would pay those taxes as usual.

He said gas-guzzling vehicles would probably pay less in total under his idea because the 1.5 cents per mile will be less than their gasoline taxes. Owners of efficient cars might pay more in taxes, he said, but they also spend far less on gasoline to begin with.

"The Prius owners are the reason we need the bill," he said.

Cullerton says he could call it for a vote as early as Wednesday but might need more time to work on it.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, expressed some hesitation, saying the plan would be a big change at a time when the state remains deadlocked over a state budget.

Murphy said he understands Cullerton's intention and argued it might be best to test it as a pilot program first.

"This one will probably require a thorough vetting," he said.

Gov. Bruce Rauner's office says he's reviewing the idea.

Cullerton's plan would create a commission to figure out some of the specifics of the proposal and the legislation wouldn't make the tax changes for a couple of years while the group did its work.

He said he'd like Illinois to be the first state in the union to make the changes statewide but said the concept is "inevitable."

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