Illinois Looks to Drivers, Smokers to Fund Road Repairs

Anyone who filled up their gas tank Monday may have winced: Illinois’ motor fuel tax doubled overnight.

As of July 1, it’s now 38 cents a gallon – up from 19 cents.

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The revenue will be poured into state roads, highways and bridges – part of a six-year, $45 billion investment in infrastructure statewide, as part of a program Gov. J.B. Pritzker has dubbed “Rebuild Illinois.”

“We’re reshaping our state for the future. We’re rebuilding Illinois. The vast majority of the Rebuild Illinois budget, $33 billion, is dedicated to the day-to-day needs for our families. Transportation to work, to visit family members, to go to school, to see a doctor,” Pritkzer said.

Among the major projects in the Chicago area are resurfacing of I-55, repairs to the I-80 bridge over the Des Plaines River, redoing portions of the Kennedy Expressway, mending the Congress Parkway bridge by the Old Chicago Post Office, building a new Chicago Transit Authority Green Line station at Cottage Grove and work on the CTA Blue Line to O’Hare branch.

It will also allow CTA President Dorval Carter to do “something that I have waited to have funding to do – and that is to move towards 100% accessibility of the entire system.”

Meeting that goal would make the CTA the first legacy public transit system to be accessible to travelers with disabilities.

Municipalities in Cook County, as well as in collar counties, also have the ability to raise their gas taxes locally, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said that’s not something she’s immediately considering.

Other upgrades will come from a $50 hike in vehicle registration fees (starting Jan. 1, 2020), new casinos and an increased tax on cigarettes.

Now that Illinois’ 2020 fiscal year has begun, smokers can expect to pay an extra $1 per pack to $2.98. (That doesn’t include local taxes. City and Cook County taxes combined total $4.18.)

Vapers can’t escape – the new year also brings a new 15% wholesale tax on electronic cigarettes.  

Meanwhile, retailers will have to pay minimum-wage employees $1 more in Cook County and Chicago; the minimum wage statewide will tick up by $1, to $9.25, come January 2020.

Collectively “it’s devastating” for gas station owners, said Bill Fleishli of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association and the Illinois Association of Convenience Stores.

“Our number one expense is labor and our two biggest-generation products are gasoline and cigarettes. They’ve raised all of them,” Fleishli said. “They’ll dry up. I’m telling you, there’s no way.”

Fleishli said that gas stations just within Illinois’ border are particularly vulnerable, given lower costs – of gas, cigarettes and labor – in Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri. He said owners trying to stay competitive can only do so much given estimates that the margin of profit is typically only 8 to 15 cents a gallon.

The case on “special fuels” like diesel and propone also increased by 5 cents a gallon as part of the Rebuilding Illinois financing package rapidly approved in bipartisan fashion in the waning days of the legislature’s spring session.  

“Imagine what the ripple effect is going to be,” Fleishli said. “Pizza delivery, school buses, your garbage – everything will have to go up to cover those expenses. So the ripple effect is going to be throughout almost every business and every commodity. Trucks and trains move the country.”

Other new laws taking effect Monday will otherwise affect drivers and smokers.

Retailers are prohibited from selling tobacco products to anyone under 21, effectively raising the smoking age up from 18.

And getting caught texting or otherwise holding an electronic device while driving will be a moving violation from here on out, meaning that instead of merely paying a fine, an offender will get a mark on his or her permanent driving record.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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