By ETHAN SIMMONS
Beginning July 1, the Illinois state tax on gasoline will double from 19 to 38 cents per gallon.
The 19-cent increase of the gasoline state excise tax will help fund the $45 billion infrastructure plan detailed in Illinois Senate Bill 1939, approved by the Illinois House of Representatives on June 2 in a bipartisan 83-29 vote.
It is the first Illinois capital bill in 10 years and the first state gas-tax increase since 1991.
Citizens, government officials and businesspeople offered a variety of opinions on the impact of the tax hike.
"I think it's ridiculous, none of that money ever gets downstate," said Amy Holland from Tuscola. "It'll pay for Chicago repairs but never down here."
"I don't think they're in the position to raise gas taxes when they're getting raises that we aren't," said Shawn Pitzer of Champaign, referring to the $1,600-a-year salary increase Illinois legislators passed for themselves due to a paperwork error earlier this month. "They'll be able to pay the higher gas prices, we won't."
"I'm in favor of it. We need our stuff fixed around here." said Sharron Marlow of Champaign.
Total taxes on gas for the state's drivers are already 10th-highest in the U.S. at 55 cents per gallon. Vaulting to 74 cents after the bill, Illinois drivers' gas tax burdens will be second only to Pennsylvania's 77 cents per gallon.
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Patrick DeHaan is director of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, a tech company that collects data on real-time fuel prices for users to compare. DeHaan paints a grim picture for Illinois gas stations bordering Indiana or Missouri.
"Unless the station has some nice restaurants, interior features or offers something like a free cup of coffee for every fill-up, it's difficult for these stations to stay competitive," DeHaan said. "Some may lower their prices and lower profit to pennies, but loyalty only goes a little ways."
Illinois stations are already outnumbered across state borders, but the gas tax increase "could be the kiss of death" for stations in areas like Quincy, DeHaan said.
Many transportation businesses have raised ticket prices in anticipation of the gas tax hike. Others like Peoria Charter Coach will wait and see how the change affects their margins.
"We don't know how it's going to hit us. We're going to try to operate without raising prices for a financial quarter and go from there," said James Wang, Peoria Charter director of operations.
Their consumer base in Champaign-Urbana is at risk for a price change if the tax proves too draining. Their buses — running at 7 miles per gallon — aren't doing them any favors.
"Our rides out of C-U have very small profit margins. It's a service we provide because we enjoy operating there," Wang said. "I hope the state will carry out what it has promised to improve road conditions."
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For gas-reliant businesses, the bill's impact will be obvious. For individual motorists, the bill's infrastructure repairs may benefit their pockets in the long run.
"If you're doing a significant amount of driving in Illinois, you're incurring more than the average in repair costs," said Nicholas Jarmusz, AAAptpt Midwest director of public affairs. "In terms of gas savings, you are losing fuel efficiency when you're driving over poor roads. It'll be a net win for motorists over the long term."
State Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, who sponsored SB 1939, said the American Society of Civil Engineers sparked action on the bill when it gave Illinois roads and transit a "D" grade.
"We need this bill to keep residents safe — we're paying for it one way or the other. There's an Illinois Chamber of Commerce study that shows residents are paying about $5 billion a year in transportation repairs," Villivalam said.
With 2,300 Illinois bridges marked structurally deficient, Villivalam said, the jobs boost that the bill provides is an underappreciated detail.
"It's a jobs bill when you really sit down and look at it," he said.
Other things Villivalam likes about the bill: its sustainable revenue structure and the infrastructure lockbox it places around gas tax funds.
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, is excited about what East Central Illinois will get out of the capital bill. Thanks to the gas tax lockbox, "our area is going to get way more back than what we put in," Rose said.
"Eliminating the sales tax in favor of the motor fuel tax is guaranteed under the Constitution to put the money on the roads rather than other spending. And you don't have to fight (House Speaker) Mike Madigan to get your money back," Rose said.
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The Illinois Chamber of Commerce introduced the framework of the transportation bill to state legislators and is happy with the results, even if the gas tax increase ended up 4 cents higher than what they proposed, said Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Todd Maisch.
Maisch agrees that Illinois roads are in dire need of repair, and spoke with one Illinois legislator who had blown out three car tires within the last year. Maisch and the chamber were highly supportive of locking gas tax funds into transportation.
"We're asking motorists to pay around $10 a month and we assume most people would have that as opposed to paying for repair costs or swerving around streets and highways," Maisch said.
Though gas tax money is locked into roadwork, the rest of the capital bill will fund plenty of projects for Champaign-Urbana, the University of Illinois and surrounding areas.
UI comes out especially well, receiving $295 million from the bill — $100 million for a new data science building and $195 million for various improvements.
According to another estimate by Illinois Policy, the gas tax increase will cost the average Illinois driver an extra $100 on gas a year. Once infrastructure plans are followed through, Illinois residents may earn that back in smoother roads and fewer repairs.
As Maisch put it, "Get used to orange cones."