CHAMPAIGN — Facing dwindling revenue from the state gasoline tax, the Transportation for Illinois Coalition will propose new motor fuel fees in May, an official with the group said Monday.
Among the possibilities being considered, said Jennifer Morrison, managing director of the coalition, are a surcharge on electric and hybrid vehicles and moving away from a per-gallon tax (now 19 cents a gallon) to a percentage-based tax that would bring in more money as the price of fuel increases. Morrison's organization is a coalition of business, labor and transit groups interested in transportation funding issues.
Gov. Pat Quinn's Illinois Jobs Now program is winding down, Morrison said, and the motor fuel tax, which funds state and local road projects, "is stagnant and declining, and at the same time, there is a dramatic increase in the cost of construction. That terrible dynamic (causes) ... the incredibly diminished purchasing power of the motor fuel tax.
"Obviously, that's not sustainable going forward. Cars are going to get increasingly fuel-efficient and are mandated to do so. We need to do something to fix that structural problem and investment in transportation."
The group has met with three of the four legislative leaders (House Minority Leader Tom Cross will huddle with the group's members on Tuesday), according to Morrison.
"What we're proposing (are) some funding ideas to be considered for investment in the infrastructure," Morrison told a group of local transportation officials, roadbuilders and public officials in a meeting at the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign. "We want to be sure that those ideas aren't crazy, from their perspective, before we go public. Our intention is to come up with some funding ideas that we can advocate for and hopefully win support from policymakers for, ideally by the end of May."
The Legislature's spring session is scheduled to end on May 31.
Morrison said later, though, "that the real funding cliff happens about a year from now. But we'd like to get this done now and in place so that people know there's a future, and it's a positive one for transportation."
Among the "several ideas" under consideration, Morrison said, are a surcharge on alternative fuel vehicles "to reflect the fact that they're not paying a motor fuel tax, but they're using the roads.
"The other thing we're looking at is moving to a percentage-base tax on the motor fuel, on the theory that we're not going to have really low gas prices anytime in the future."
Illinois' motor fuel tax is among the lowest in the country, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. On a per capita basis, according to the most recent FTA figures, Illinois' motor fuel tax collects $103.73 per capita. All states neighboring Illinois, except Michigan at $99, had higher per capita rates.
But Illinois also allows local motor fuel taxes and levies a sales tax on gasoline sales which, according to the American Petroleum Institute, makes total motor fuel costs among the highest in the nation.
Also Monday, local officials bemoaned the level of state highway construction dollars being sent to East Central Illinois and complained about funding diversions from motor fuel taxes.
Spending in Illinois Transportation Department District 5, which includes Champaign, DeWitt, Douglas, Edgar, McLean, Piatt and Vermilion counties, is $135,000 per mile, the lowest in the state and just 70 percent of the next lowest region, according to the group Champaign County First.
"If you look at the numbers, we are woefully underfunded compared to the rest of the state," said Laura Weis, president and CEO of the Champaign Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said the discrepancy in funding for District 5 is a longtime complaint.
"In the last several years then-Rep. Chapin Rose and I would try to talk to the folks at IDOT and say, 'Look, what's going on at District 5? Look at the amount of funding," she said. "I haven't stopped. I'm still trying to get their ear, get their attention."
"We're noticing that there's a large portion of the money that used to come back to local road authorities somehow is being siphoned off and put into other places," said Champaign County Highway Engineer Jeff Blue. "People are paying at the pumps and they're paying for their drivers' licenses and their (license) plates and they think that money is going toward roads and it's not."
Morrison said that a large share of motor fuel tax revenue is going to state pension payments.
"One of our goals and principles for what we're going to propose is cleaning up the road fund so that the money stays where the users think it's going, into transportation," she said.