As Illinois lawmakers look at ways to pay for infrastructure spending, a panel of experts said that hiking the state’s motor fuel tax isn’t likely to hurt their re-election chances.
Acting Illinois Department of Transportation Omer Osman said the state needs $13 billion to $15 billion to maintain the state’s roads and bridges.
“More funding is definitely needed to improve the condition and provide the best roadways and bridges,” he said.
The state has spent about $2 billion annually on road and bridge maintenance, Osman said.
Local unions have been advertising the need for infrastructure spending by warning of the dangerously poor conditions of a number of Illinois bridges.
Alison Premo Black, chief engineer with the American Road and Transportation Builders Association echoed others in the hearing that raising the state’s gas tax wouldn’t jeopardize a lawmaker’s seat.
“We’ve looked that the election returns for about 2,800 legislators,” she said. “Ninety-two percent of those folks who vote for the gas tax increase are returned to office.”
Steve Hall, senior vice president for advocacy and external affairs of the American Council of Engineering Companies, said states around the nation are raising funds to update infrastructure.
“Your timing is perfect,” he said. “Since 2013, 27 states have raised their gas taxes to expand their transportation programs.”
State Rep. Luis Arroyo, chairman of the House Appropriations Capital Committee, told the panel that the gas tax hike idea was unpopular in Illinois and that state officials are still working to assess the cost of updating the state’s roads and bridges.
Illinois already has a tax of 37 cents per gallon of gas, on average, one of the highest rates in the nation.
Outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on Illinois lawmakers to more than double the state’s motor fuel tax to pay for infrastructure improvements. A handful of other groups have also suggested raising the motor fuel tax as a primary way to fund a capital plan.