4-cents-per-gallon fuel tax coming to Lake County this summer
A 4-cent-per-gallon fuel tax will take effect in Lake County beginning July 1.
The Lake County Board on Tuesday enacted the measure by a vote of 14-7. The approval was expected, as the stances of individual board members emerged during lengthy discussions last week leading to Tuesday's vote.
As approved, the tax will generate $8 million to $11 million per year to address a backlog of partially and unfunded road projects, county officials say.
The board initially considered an 8-cent-per-gallon tax, the maximum allowed under state law. The recommendation to the full board was reduced as a compromise between members who supported the tax and those who felt it would hurt people who could least afford it.
After nearly two dozen public comments and considerable debate among board members, the vote was mostly along party lines, with only Democrat Diane Hewitt of Waukegan joining Republicans in opposing the tax.
Hewitt said she received 250 emails mainly against the measure.
"My constituents are important to me and they're telling me to vote 'no' on this gas tax," she said. "I will not and cannot vote 'yes' for this."
Others who voted against the gas tax generally support transportation improvements. They contend it's the wrong time to add expenses for low-earning workers and others struggling economically during the pandemic.
"You couldn't have asked for a worse time to talk about increasing taxes," said longtime board member Judy Martini of Fox Lake.
"We have people leaving the state and the county," she added.
Lake County didn't have authority to impose a gas tax until 2019 and is the last of the collar counties to do so.
Available funding falls well short of addressing a $1.7 billion list of partially funded and unfunded transportation projects, according to county transportation officials.
Supporters said the gas tax would accelerate the pace of projects, such as underpasses of railroad crossings in busy areas. The tax will help reduce congestion, improve safety, attract investment and create jobs, supporters argued.
Board Member Carissa Casbon of Warren Township described gas tax-related work as "a crucial part of the overall economic recovery in Lake County."
Board Member Jessica Vealitzek of Mundelein estimated the cost at $1 a week or less.
"The transportation investment we are talking about today is about creating a comprehensive vision that works for all of us," she said.
Board Member Marah Altenberg of Buffalo Grove said delaying the tax would be a mistake.
"Every year we wait, the cost of these projects increases and we dig a deeper hole for our constituents," she said.
Paul Frank, a board member from Highland Park who heads the board's finance and administrative committee, said there isn't a penny for penny correlation in a fuel tax and the cost of gas at the pump.
"I would not be supporting this investment if I thought it was going to hurt people," he said. "The evidence shows this clearly does not have the direct correlation impact in terms of gas prices."
Opponents said they were heeding public input.
"This is a not-now type of tax," said board Member Michael Danforth of Fox River Grove. "We appear to be tone deaf," he added.
Board Member Craig Taylor of Lake Zurich originally supported the maximum but on Tuesday voted against the 4-cent tax.
"Another year wouldn't hurt," he said. "It's a tough time right now. Let's listen to our constituents."