SPRINGFIELD – Gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon have pinched the pocketbooks of area families, businesses, school districts and local governments. The costs of everything from pizza delivery to airplane tickets to furniture have risen along with fuel prices.
But after the fifth and final hearing of the House Republican Task Force on Motor Fuel Pricing on Tuesday, its chairman, State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, admitted there is little the state could do about that.
"Somebody asked me earlier if the states could really do much and quite frankly, no," Black said. "We're very limited as to what we can do in regulating interstate commerce and we're very limited in what we can do to attack the problem. & There's no silver bullet."
However, Black said the task force would put together a package of measures through which the state can provide a little relief and try to pass them in the General Assembly veto session later this month.
"I think we'll come up with some pretty solid recommendations," he said.
One of those proposals will be to suspend the state's sales tax on gasoline for 60 days or so, which Black called "the most realistic short-term solution."
In addition to the flat 19-cent-per-gallon state motor fuel tax, there is a 6.25 percent sales tax on gasoline, of which 5 percent goes to the state and 1.25 percent goes to local governments. Because gas prices are soaring, the state's revenue from that sales tax is significantly higher than had been expected, Black said.
However, Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said even a temporary suspension of that tax would cause hardship in other areas of the budget such as education and health care.
"It's something that the governor hasn't ruled completely out, but it is a very distant option," she said on Tuesday.
A proposal that is more likely to get support from the governor's office is HB 4105, which would exempt flexible fuel vehicles from taxation. The measure already has bipartisan support, and its cosponsors include state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana.
"The current source of oil is not reliable; biofuels are," said state Rep. Don Moffit, R-Galesburg, who introduced HB 4105.
Black, who is also a cosponsor of that bill, said it would be part of the task force's final recommendations, along with other measures, such as tax credits for stations that install E-85 fuel pumps.
"I checked today and there are only 51 retail outlets in Illinois selling E-85," Black said. "That's ridiculous."
Rausch said the governor has provided grants to add more E-85 pumps and would be interested in "looking at any ideas anyone has" to promote and encourage the use of ethanol.
Those who testified at the hearing on Tuesday had some of their own ideas about how to provide relief, ranging from increasing the percentage of a school district's transportation costs the state will reimburse to reducing the surcharge on truck registrations and increasing the amount of weight large trucks are permitted to carry.
"The trucking industry is paying more than its share," said Ron Savage, owner of H&M Trucking in Clinton, which has been spending $20,000 every three weeks on diesel fuel at prices much higher than the $1.95 a gallon it was paying back in February.
Black said the task force would review all of the testimony from each of the five hearings and would publish a final report and list of recommendations within two or three weeks.