This session of the Legislature was momentous. We saw our state take a far-left turn with votes on recreational marijuana, expanding late-term abortions, a (failed) attempt to further erode our Second Amendment rights, a constitutional referendum to eliminate our flat income tax, a $15 minimum wage and many other measures that either will transform the state or drive it further into a ditch.
With the limited space available to me in this column, I want to talk about the one issue that will have the biggest immediate effect on your pocketbooks: the increase in the state’s motor fuel tax.
Illinois’ roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair. Past practice has been for the state to pass a capital bill every 10 years or so, selling bonds to finance construction. It’s usually the case that the money would be spent repairing damage that’s been done since the last capital bill, with little left for infrastructure improvements.
This year’s capital bill took a different turn, instituting a “pay-as-you-go” system of funding that will allow for ongoing repairs along with needed improvements. Unfortunately, it comes with a high price tag. The estimated cost over the next six years is $41.5 billion.
The largest revenue component needed to pay that $41.5 billion is a motor fuel tax that will rise from
19 cents a gallon to 38 cents a gallon, with indexing for inflation. The last time Illinois increased motor fuel taxes was in 1990, and $1 then is worth 53 cents today. Had we indexed our motor fuel tax in 1990 for inflation, the tax today would be the same 38 cents.
You may wonder how much of that will be spent in McHenry County. On May 31, I sat down with the Illinois Department of Transportation and discussed projects slated for House District 63 over the next six years. In addition to an estimated countywide $6.1 million increase in the distribution of motor fuel tax revenue for local governments, they are:
• Widening Route 47 from Huntley to Route 14: $121.7 million
• Widening Route 47 from Route 14 to Route 120: $57 million
• Water and wastewater infrastructure improvements for Marengo, allowing it to alleviate flooding problems and extend sewer lines to the Interstate 90 interchange: $26.9 million
• 31 projects to repair Routes 120, 173, 176, 20, 31 and 14, affecting every community in this district: $59.6 million
• Local project initiatives: $1.5 million
That’s more than $266 million to be spent in District 63 alone. There isn’t a legislator in the state who won’t find similar or even greater amounts being spent in their districts, including those whose districts include part of McHenry County.
Unlike those who voted against the capital bill so as not to soil their political hands by going on record as being willing to pay for those projects, yet who no doubt will celebrate when it comes time to break ground on them, I voted for that increase.
That vote was made somewhat easier because in 2016, almost four out of every five voters approved the Transportation Lockbox Amendment to our state Constitution, mandating that gas taxes only be spent on infrastructure.
We’ve seen what decades of neglect have done to our roads. Illinois’ infrastructure chickens have come home to roost, and anyone who tells you that all of this can be done by cutting spending elsewhere or waiting another 10 years for another capital bill is living in a dream world. I could not in good conscience expect $266 million to be spent in District 63 on such sorely needed projects and then ask everyone else in the state to pick up the tab.
Illinois stands at the center of the nation’s transportation system. Our roads, rails, airports and rivers carry more traffic than any other state in the Union. Illinois’ economy cannot grow without first-rate infrastructure. But it all comes at a price, and that bill needs to be paid.
• Steve Reick, a Republican state representative from Woodstock, represents the 63rd House District, which includes Woodstock, Marengo, Hebron, Harvard and part of McHenry.