Fix road funding with eye toward state's future

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted11/28/2018 5:47 PM
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  • A Tesla owner charges up in Rolling Meadows.

      A Tesla owner charges up in Rolling Meadows. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

"We have to fund these roads somehow."

That's state Rep. Tom Morrison talking about his idea to charge owners of electric cars more because they're not paying motor fuel taxes like drivers of gas-powered vehicles are.

Morrison would charge owners of the state's 8,031 electric cars the same $101 registration fee as everyone else rather than the $17.50 rate intended as a reward for not emitting hydrocarbons, our reporter Jake Griffin wrote.

A separate proposal would raise the fee for electric car owners to $216 to cover what they would have paid in taxes if they had bought gasoline, said Morrison, who says he'll resurrect at least one of the bills that died last year.

But what about pickup trucks? Shouldn't we charge more for vehicles that weigh more and tear up the roads more quickly?

Before you dash off a note to us, take a look at what we've done there -- framed road funding as a political flashpoint, the electric car crowd v. pickup truck folks.

If the online comments on Griffin's story are an indication, that's how some of you were thinking. But let's not do that.

Let's agree with Morrison that we have to pay for roads, somehow. And if we turn away from the red and blue prisms through which we now often see the world, we bet we can agree on some principles that might put our road funding in line with other goals for how we want Illinois to look in the future.

Doing so might open the door to a vehicle miles traveled tax, a replacement for the motor fuel tax that turned toxic in the recent election campaign after Gov. Bruce Rauner accused Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker of wanting to track where everyone drives. The VMT, which by nature would collect some contribution from electric and hybrid vehicles for their use of the roads, arguably is the most fair approach and might even get suburban drivers out of double paying for using existing toll roads. (You likely already have a tracker in your car -- your iPass transponder).

Moving beyond politics might give rise to a long-term vision where the roadbuilding lobby would hold a little less sway. Maybe more funding would go to make mass transit more convenient and comfortable, taking some people off the roads and cutting maintenance costs.

It might lead to other creative alternatives to the existing motor fuel gas tax, which only produces less revenue as more drivers go green.

We've got to fund roads somehow, but the $2 million in revenue from the fees Morrison contemplates wouldn't come close to meeting that goal.

How about taking a more comprehensive approach that prioritizes good roads and a clean, livable Illinois in the future?

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