Champaign nearing final vote on gas tax

CHAMPAIGN — Facing a $60 million backlog of unfunded road projects, city council members next week could give final approval to a proposed 4 cent-per-gallon gas tax — in what promises to be a close vote.

Local business leaders are opposing the new tax: The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce says it will put more of a burden on businesses, which are already facing higher fuel costs.

The council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.

"Nobody wants their taxes to go up," said city council member Tom Bruno. "But I have had a lot of people say that we need to do something to improve our community's roads."

Officials have been falling further and further behind on road improvements as the city continues to develop outward. Bruno was the first council member to propose the tax at the 4 cent rate, which is expected to raise $1.5 million annually in new money for street projects.

That would be enough to at least start chipping away at the $60 million list of road projects. Still, without other measures, it would take 40 years to catch up.

Bruno said a 4 cent-per-gallon rate was his rough approximation of a 1 percent tax. Based on Thursday's gas prices in Champaign, it would be about a 1.18 percent tax.

That is "minimal in comparison to the daily fluctuations in gasoline prices," Bruno said. He speculates that typical drivers would not even notice if they had not heard about it.

But some Chamber of Commerce members are not typical drivers, said Paul Orama, the chamber's public policy manager. One chamber member estimates that a 4 cent gas tax would add $14,000 annually to his fuel costs.

And businesses are already struggling with rising fuel prices, Orama said. "This will just add to that."

Bruno said he does not buy that argument.

"If you're putting that many miles on your trucks on city streets, then all the more argument for wanting to fix the roads," Bruno said.

The Chamber of Commerce is asking the council to vote down the gas tax.

"We would like ... for city council to look into other ways to see how they can address the arterial street costs," Orama said. That means budget cuts in other areas, he suggested, not higher taxes.

The Champaign council's counterpart approved a comparable tax in 2010. Urbana officials agreed to tax gasoline at 2 cents per gallon, and the ordinance was equipped with a 0.4 cent escalator every July until 2013. Urbana's gas tax currently stands at 2.4 cents per gallon and will top out at 3.2 cents next year.

A 5-4 Champaign council poll in November approved putting the new tax to a formal vote. When the issue returned for final approval in December, three council members were absent, including Michael La Due.

La Due had been one of the prior "yes" votes. Since every bill needs at least five affirmative votes to become law, the council had to postpone the final vote.

Bruno said he thinks the five "yes" votes will hold next week.

"This is a jobs program, among other things," Bruno said. "All the money gets spent right here in Champaign. You can't import roads from China."

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Local Yocal wrote on February 03, 2012 at 8:02 am
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Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, but don't tax me. Let the businesses pay to fix their trucks and cars after they drive over a few potholes.

dw wrote on February 03, 2012 at 10:02 am

As our country moves in a positive direction to reduce our billion-dollar-a-day foreign oil habit by using more high MPG vehicles (and no-MPG vehicles such as bicyles and plug-in vehicles such as plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles) the gas tax will make less and less revenue.

Therefore it is critical that the city councils take a good hard look at what is really causing the majority of road damage on our local roads:

High mileage, high weight-per-axle vehicles:

    http://www.vabike.org/vehicle-weight-and-road-damage/
    http://facweb.knowlton.ohio-state.edu/pviton/courses2/crp776/776-roads-b...

I am not opposed to a local gas tax, but both councils need to take a good hard look at what is damaging the streets.  Chalmers between Wright and Sixth was repaved this past summer, and prior to any freeze-thaw cycles already sustained major damage resulting in pot holes you could go skinnydipping in.  The section of Chalmers between Sixth and 4th is still smooth as a baby's bottom.  Go sit and observe traffic at the intersection of 6th and Chalmers and you'll learn what's wrecking our roads and busting our road-repair budgets.

Here's a clue to the solution of how to keep our roads in good shape --  move the high-weight-per-axle, high mileage vehicles off of them:
 
http://www.news-gazette.com/news/other/2003-01-26/group-says-tram%C2%B4s...

sameeker wrote on February 03, 2012 at 10:02 am

A 70% tax on all political contributions and super PAC revenue would fix everything from the federal government on down.

Local Yocal wrote on February 03, 2012 at 11:02 am
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"This is a jobs program, among other things," Bruno said.

Mama, make sure your babies grow up to be concrete contractors. The work is endless. Blessed be the person who invents a more durable substance than crushed rock and tar to make roads with. Of course, Bruno will have every road named (with photographs) that comprises this $60 million backlog of needed repairs for the public to inspect, and the public will have input as to which roads should be given top priority. Could it be the roads that are most frequented by heavy trucks, hauling building supplies and demolition material, are the roads experiencing the most damage? I wouldn't mind a better-aimed tax at those causing the damage. And in other unrelated matters, these government contracts will of course require contractors to have 15% of the help to be African Americans, right?

pattsi wrote on February 03, 2012 at 1:02 pm

A couple perspectives that folks might consider if they plan to attend the city council meeting or contract their member. Some of the strain on the city finances to repair/maintain/build new roads and sidewalks has to do with the sprawl in the community. The city council commissioned two economic studies to look at what sprawl might cost the city and if it pays for itself. The bottomline is that sprawl costs the city and rarely pays for itself. So what has happened is much more roadway and sidewalks to maintain at all levels let along the older infrastructure. The tax dollar is stretched unnecessarily. The community needs a growth boundary to stay sprawl. As a city the land is being covered 4-5 fold related to the growth in population. This costs the taxpayer on every level--parks, schools, infrastructure, etc.

Second, when and if the gas tax is raised, such increase will be passed along to "John Q. Public" by business entities to help defry more costs. Translated this means "John" will not only be paying this tax personally as one fills up one's gas tank, but also in increased costs within the community as businesses, rental properties, etc. pass along the increase to "John."

Third, this one more regressive tax.

todays-thoughts wrote on February 06, 2012 at 7:02 pm

The News-Gazette has twice now editorialized against the proposed gas tax as if it is luxury item that the City can simply do without. They neglect to mention that many of the city streets are falling apart and in some cases are getting to the point where basic maintenance will no longer suffice and full replacement is required. It would at least help give a balanced picture if they would include a link to the City report that includes detailed information on the matter. The report can be found at http://archive.ci.champaign.il.us/archive/dsweb/Get/Document-10669/CB%202011-231.pdf<?xml:namespace prefix = o />

The basic truth is that funding for street maintenance and construction from State and Federal levels is flat-lined and in some cases dramatically decreased. The city has tightened its belt considerably with multiple years of budget cuts, including a two million dollar cut in capital improvements. We can stick our heads in the sand and pretend there isn't a problem or we can show leadership as the City Council has done and attempt to address the problem. The News-Gazette would do better to suggest a solution to the problem rather than just portray the City as money grabbing. The comment included in the editorial that states, "Why should the needs of government always be put ahead of the needs of the citizens the government is supposed to serve?" is a stretch to say the least. The citizens are the owner of the streets--the city government is just the caretaker.

Other than human capital the physical asset of the city's street system is likely the most valuable asset of our community--with 284 miles of streets valued at 164 million dollars. The other item of interest that the News-Gazette failed to mention is that since the inception of the 2.4 cent per gallon local motor fuel tax in Urbana there has been no discernible difference in gas prices between Champaign and Urbana.

So we can either ignore the problem like the State government does and wait until it gets insurmountable or we can do something about it while we still can. If the gas tax is not the right funding source, then please News-Gazette tell us what is.