Council should reject gas tax
Champaign city officials will be making a big mistake if they decide to impose a new tax on gasoline.
The price of a gallon of gasoline is high — around $3.50. But it's not as high as it has been in recent months when it was in excess of $4 per gallon.
That decline in gasoline prices has some Champaign city officials thinking about passing a 4-cents-a-gallon gas tax. They apparently figure with gasoline prices jumping around, people won't realize or will quickly forget the city's role in driving the price up higher.
It would not just be a mistake for the city council to pass its own version of a gasoline tax, but irrefutable evidence that, once again, government routinely puts its interests ahead of the public it's supposed to serve.
City officials, no doubt, will vehemently challenge that assertion. Their contention is that the city needs the money to spend on road improvements, a direct benefit to city residents.
That's true, as far as it goes. But it overlooks the fact that the economy stinks, that unemployment is too high, that good jobs are too few, that people are struggling and that imposing a gas tax means citizens will have fewer dollars to pay their bills.
If and when economy get better, council members can talk about a gas take hike to pay for necessary infrastructure improvements.
In the meantime, that means we all ought to be in this together, and that requires those in the public and private sector to do the best they can with what they have.
Champaign clearly is envious of Urbana and Danville, which both have imposed gas taxes to raise revenue for city programs. But just because officials in those cities have so far escaped paying a political price for their decisions doesn't make it the correct path to follow.
Illinois is one of a handful of states to levy a sales tax on gasoline purchases as well as a separate gasoline tax. Before the recent spike to the $3 and $4 range, taxes made up a surprisingly large percentage of the price of a gallon of gasoline. Now the percentage of taxes in a gallon appears to be less onerous because the overall price has increased so dramatically.
But gas prices are high enough that they constitute a serious burden for people who have to do large amounts of driving. Champaign ought not add to that burden by imposing a gas tax of its own.