Editorial: Signage war will just sow more confusion about gas taxes

  • Unless the law is stricken down by the courts, Illinois gas stations will have to post signs touting the suspension of the state's temporary sales tax or face a hefty fine.

    Unless the law is stricken down by the courts, Illinois gas stations will have to post signs touting the suspension of the state's temporary sales tax or face a hefty fine. Bloomberg File Photo By David Paul Morris

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 6/23/2022 1:04 PM
This editorial is the consensus opinon of the Daily Herald Editorial Board

If the courts side with the Illinois legislature, by the end of next week signs could be popping up at gas stations all over the state. They will explain how the gas tax increase scheduled to kick in on July 1 has been magnanimously postponed until January 2023 to temporarily take a little of the burden off drivers as gas prices push higher and higher.

Meanwhile, at many stations, next to those signs will be other signs that offer a counterargument. These, made by the Illinois Fuel and Retail Association and distributed to their members, will say that "Illinois politicians" have more than doubled the gas tax since 2019, and basically call the postponement of the new 2.4 cents per gallon charge an election tactic to improve Democrats' chances in November.

 

They'll also say that gas stations are forced to post the legislative signs or pay a $500-a-day fine.

There could be so much reading material at every gas station that drivers will start showing up late to work.

The Illinois gas tax, currently 39.2 cents per gallon, was set for an automatic increase of 2.4 cents on July 1. Legislators, alarmed by the current rise in gas prices overall, agreed to amend the Motor Fuel Tax law to delay the increase for six months; and to require gas stations put up signs that tout the savings to drivers. In related news, on Wednesday President Joe Biden called on Congress to suspend both federal and state gas taxes for three months. He also urged the oil industry to increase refining capacity quickly, and to pass along savings to consumers faster.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Fuel and Retail Association has sued to stop the mandatory signage, arguing that it violates retailers' free speech rights by making them choose between making a political statement that "they do not wish to make" on behalf of the state or face criminal penalties.

Lest anyone reading this is thinking that Democrats alone are guilty of such bad judgment, it behooves us to point out that Republicans voted for the amendment containing this provision as well.

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Further, in 2000, Gov. George Ryan and Senate President James "Pate" Phillip, both Republicans, supported suspending the state sales tax on gas for six months ... and required retailers to display signs advertising the savings.

The chest-thumping that the signs represent was unnecessary and self-indulgent in 2000 -- frankly, even embarrassing. Nothing has changed. The ensuing war of written words will not make anything clearer to the public at large and in fact will muddle the conversation further.

Moreover, forcing retailers to pay for their own legislative-mandated signs adds insult to injury.

Keep in mind that the delay is merely a delay. The gas tax increase will reappear in January and take effect then. Another automatic gas tax increase is already scheduled for July 1, 2023, so consumers will see two hikes, not one, next year.

On July 1, 2019, the gas tax in Illinois doubled from 19 cents to 38 cents, and the legislation built in inflationary shock absorber increases for the following years. The tax money goes to rebuild roads, bridges and other infrastructure. That is sorely needed in Illinois.

These signs, however, are not.

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