Fuel retailers sue over requirement to post about tax freeze
SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois fuel retailers argued in a lawsuit filed Thursday that a requirement to post signs alerting consumers about a six-month freeze in the state motor-fuel tax unconstitutionally compels them to promote Gov. J.B. Pritzker's reelection campaign.
The Illinois Fuel & Retail Association and two large fuel distributors filed the lawsuit in Sangamon County court against the Illinois Department of Revenue, its director, David Harris, and others.
At issue is a sign retailers must post on each fuel pump beginning July 1 as a result of the General Assembly's and Pritzker's freezing the motor fuel tax from its scheduled automatic inflation adjustment of about 2.2 cents per gallon. Originally proposed for a year, the law ends the freeze after six months.
A sign no smaller than 4 inches by 8 inches must report this and add, "The price on this pump should reflect the suspension of the tax increase."
Failure to post carries a $500 daily fine, violating state and federal speech protections, the lawsuit say, which cover "both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking."
A spokesman for the Illinois attorney general's office, which will act at the government's defense attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The law requires "plaintiffs and other retailers to choose between making a political statement they do not wish to make to their customers or the general public on behalf of the State of Illinois, or facing criminal penalties," the suit says.
The pleading backs up its claim that the sign represents political speech supportive of not only Pritzker but also Democratic lawmakers by citing their own comments. Rep. Michael Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat, testified before a House committee that the signs will allow a consumer to "read about the good things we did." And Pritzker's latest campaign commercial, the suit says, proclaims that "J.B. froze the gas tax."
Like the gas-tax freeze, Pritzker and Democratic lawmakers lifted the 1% tax on groceries as an inflation-busting move. A similar sign must be posted inside stores explaining that savings on groceries -- but there is no penalty for noncompliance, the lawsuit notes.
The lawsuit is Illinois Fuel & Retail Association v. Illinois Department of Revenue.