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McHenry County residents, officials weigh in on proposed motor fuel tax increase

Some McHenry County leaders call discussion of increase ‘premature’

Recent gas prices have been a relief for Woodstock resident Martin Jimenez, a construction worker whose daily commute depends on where he’s needed.

“I usually work in Chicago. It’s nice to fill up here, drive there, come back and then fill up more in the morning to avoid the prices over there,” Jimenez said Monday after topping off at Gas Cap Fuels in Woodstock.

The current flat gas tax rate in Illinois is 19 cents a gallon of unleaded gas, which hasn’t changed since the early 1990s. Other gas taxes include a flat 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal tax rate and the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax rate. Elected officials from larger Illinois cities, however, have said they want to see a 20-cent to 30-cent increase in the state’s motor fuel tax.

Jimenez, who grew up in McHenry County and fills up on gas daily, said he wouldn’t mind pitching in a few more cents a gallon if it helped improve the conditions of the roads he uses every day. He’s skeptical, however, that any real road improvements are around the corner.

“It would be nice if they did that, but a lot of the times they say that and then everything stays the same,” he said.

Jimenez is among those Illinois drivers curious about the state’s funding of transportation expenses under new leadership.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who was inaugurated Monday, supports a capital bill for infrastructure, calling it an investment that “creates jobs, improves the economy and pays off for years to come,” The Associated Press reported.

Pritzker also has said he would consider testing a miles-traveled tax, as vehicles are becoming more fuel-efficient, according to The AP.

Gas prices within the U.S. – which on average were $2.245 a gallon as of Monday, according to AAA – have been at their lowest in the past two years, said Patrick DeHaan, a petroleum analyst for GasBuddy. About 44 percent of the country’s stations have prices less than $2 a gallon, and about 70 percent are at less than $2.25 a gallon, he said.

Oil prices, which are between $42 and $48 a barrel, also have decreased dramatically since October, when the price was $76 a barrel, DeHaan said, adding that there has been a large decrease in national average gas prices within the past few months.

“It’s pretty close to an 80-cent decline since October,” DeHaan said.

Although federal, state and even municipal taxes affect gas prices, the bulk of the cost comes from competition among nearby gas stations, DeHaan said. Other factors include the looming trade war with China and the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, he said.

“So all three of those issues kind of conspire together,” DeHaan said.

Gas Cap Fuels clerk Michelle Diazleal said larger chain competitors are the major driving force behind the local gas station’s price per gallon, which can vary by the hour.

“It is the competitors, for sure,” Diazleal said. “BP is what we always take a look at.”

At $2.132 a gallon, the average cost of gasoline in McHenry County as of Monday was cheaper than the national and state averages of $2.138 and $2.245, respectively, according to AAA.

The average prices in DuPage and Kane counties were $2.15 and $2.149 a gallon on Monday, respectively. Kane, DuPage and McHenry counties also have a 4-cent county motor fuel tax.

Cook County has a 6-cent county gas tax because it is home rule community. Its average gas price as of Monday was $2.325 a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline.

In comparison, the average gas price in DeKalb County was $2.083 a gallon Monday, and sat at $2.113 and $2.074 in Will and Kendall counties, respectively.

As of Monday, the average gas price in Lee County was $2.055, and it was $1.99 in LaSalle County, according to AAA.

Local officials were surprised last month to see their names on a letter from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, which labeled them supporters of the Chicago mayor’s effort to raise the state’s motor fuel tax to fund highway improvements.

Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Executive Director Dave Bennett said he compiled a list of public officials who the organization believed could support a capital bill. Bennett said his organization has not endorsed the proposal to raise the tax to 30 cents, and the list was released by accident.

Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley, Algonquin Village President John Schmitt, Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager and Fox River Grove Village President Robert Nunamaker were listed as supporters.

Reached by phone Monday, Sager said talk about the potential tax increase is premature and declined to comment.

Shepley was not available to speak on the matter.

Schmitt and Nunamaker agreed they’d like to see additional revenue to help move along projects that could bring more commerce to the area, including the widening of Route 47 between Charles Road and Route 14. More research is needed, however, to determine where those funds would come from, they said.

“If you need the tax to build the state, then you need the tax to build the state. The decision is not easy,” Schmitt said. “... Sometimes those decisions are very difficult, and people don’t like them, but you have to do what you have to do for the future of the community.”

Schmitt said he wouldn’t make up his mind one way or the other until he’s presented with more research.

“I think everybody’s getting excited about something that hasn’t been discussed yet,” he said.

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