Illinoisans already pay among the highest gas taxes in the nation. But drivers in Illinois could soon be paying more taxes at the pump than in any other state, if a recent gas tax hike proposal finds favor in Springfield.
In December, outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pressed state lawmakers to at least double the state’s gas tax to fund transportation and infrastructure needs in the city and surrounding areas.
Specifically, Emanuel recommended hiking the tax by between 20 and 30 cents per gallon.
But Illinoisans already pay the 10th-highest gas tax in the nation on average, according to the Tax Foundation. That includes Illinois’ state gas tax as well as its patchwork of local gas taxes. Illinois is also one of only a minority of states to pile its layers of state and local sales taxes atop its special gas taxes – meaning Illinoisans are effectively doubled-taxed at the pump.
The result? Motorists pay 37.3 cents per gallon in taxes on average to fill up in Illinois – not including the federal 18.4 cent gas tax. If Springfield takes the upper end of Emanuel’s suggestion – a 30 cent increase – Illinoisans would pay 67.3 cents per gallon on average in state and local taxes. That would be the highest total tax burden on gas in the nation by far, according to Tax Foundation data.
Even on the lower end of the mayor’s range, Illinois’ average gas tax burden would increase to 57.3 cents per gallon, excluding the federal tax. This would push Illinois’ overall gas tax burden to second-highest in the nation, trailing Pennsylvania by just over 1 cent.
Adopting the mayor’s proposal would mean the average motorist using 656 gallons per year would pay between $130 and $200 more in gas taxes per year in Illinois.
But it isn’t clear whether taking on a higher tax burden will improve Illinoisans’ bang for their buck when it comes to transit infrastructure. In fact, other states have proven able to do more for roads and bridges using fewer tax dollars. Look at Texas: While it’s true that climate plays a role in infrastructure needs, Texas’ average gas tax burden is 46 percent lower than Illinois’. The Lone Star State regularly receives recognition for its best-in-the-nation infrastructure, and keep in mind Texans don’t pay an income tax.
Slashing waste and abuse
Illinois has not passed a capital funding bill since 2009. Still, the fact that other states can provide state-of-the-art infrastructure in a low-tax environment as high-tax Illinois falls behind should call into question how Springfield is spending its existing tax dollars.
Sure enough, a pair of recent scandals revealed significant waste and abuse in two state infrastructure agencies. In 2017, a federal investigation into hundreds of “staff assistant” hires made at the Illinois Department of Transportation found that the agency had for years been doling out patronage jobs to politically connected applicants. The agency pushed candidates through the application process with “‘little or no regard’ for actual hiring need, or whether the candidate was qualified for the job,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority more recently demonstrated its own pattern of patronage. In September, the Daily Herald reported the tollway board chair had awarded a number of six-figure positions to political allies. The agency had also contracted with firms staffed with officials’ family relatives and former political associates to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
While addressing those scandals may not on their own account for the state’s infrastructure needs, they provide a useful roadmap for where state lawmakers can begin scaling back waste and abuse of existing tax dollars – before asking for more at the pump.
High taxes are the No. 1 reason Illinoisans cite for wishing to leave the state. And indeed, outbound Illinoisans have generated five consecutive years of population loss. Rather than further burdening overtaxed residents, state leaders must re-evaluate how current funds are spent. A gas tax hike is only bound to continue driving Illinois motorists across state lines.