Last December, before the new Legislature was even sworn in, I donned a yellow jacket in solidarity with the French protesters sick of their country’s punitive taxes on motor fuel in order to sound the alarm about the possibility of the gas tax being increased in Illinois.
Insiders smirked and dismissed the idea that the gas tax would go up. The Governor was pushing for a progressive income tax and other tax hikes and, according to their reading of the tea leaves at the time, they did not believe there was the political will to raise the gas tax and so they mocked the warnings I gave last year.
Unfortunately, my prediction was right. The Legislature doubled Illinois’ gas tax from 19 cents per gallon to 38 cents per gallon and when local tax increases are factored in – the net increase in the Chicago suburbs could be as high as 30 cents per gallon.
Hiking up the gas tax is a regressive tax that will hit the people who can least afford it the hardest. During the floor debate on the gas tax, I implored my colleagues to think about the low-income families in their districts and what this tax increase would mean to them. Families living paycheck to paycheck will have to make sacrifices just to afford to drive to work and back.
The very same people advocating the progressive income tax doubled the state’s motor fuel tax, which everyone must pay whether they are driving a Ferrari or a Honda Accord circa 1998. The gas tax impacts everyone equally, regardless of income. Again, this will hurt low-income families.
It is estimated that, nationally, a one percent increase in gas prices takes $1 billion out of consumers’ pockets. Illinois’ population of just under 13 million people represents about 4 percent of the total U.S. population.
So, the impact of increasing the cost of a gallon of gas by one percent in Illinois will cost consumers an estimated $40 million in Illinois. The average price of gas in Illinois is $2.94 per gallon. The estimated 30 cents per gallon increase would add about 10 percent to the current cost of gas.
In other words, the estimated cost of this gas hike to Illinois consumers is about $400 million annually. That is $400 million that could go toward buying new shoes for kids to start the school year or repairing the roof. Instead, that money is going to go to government to service more debt.
Yes, we need to fix our roads, but President Donald Trump is working on a bipartisan $2 trillion infrastructure plan which could go a long way toward meeting the infrastructure needs we have here in Illinois. His plan could bring as much as $400 billion ($2 trillion divided by 50 states) or more to Illinois.
The prudent course of action would be to wait and see what happens in the next few months at the federal level before sticking Illinois families with a massive gas tax hike.
While Illinois families are figuring out how to pay the taxes the leadership in the House and Senate raised, those same legislative leaders gave members of the General Assembly a $1,600 per year pay raise.
Pay raises for legislators. Higher taxes for everyone else. Welcome to Governor Pritzker’s Illinois.
• Allen Skillicorn is a Crystal Lake Republican who represents the 66th District.