Op-Ed: Why Illinois Politicians Are Awkward To Put Tax Signs On Gas Pumps | Illinois
A new crop of political signs is sprouting up in Illinois, but rather than decorating roadsides, they’re gas pumps. They contain a lot of legally prescribed words, but here’s the gist: “Save 2.2 cents a gallon for six months.” Vote for JB”
Yet the content of the signs isn’t nearly as important as the message to Illinois gas station owners: “Push our campaign agenda, or we’ll treat you like a criminal and fine you $500 per day.”
A few explanations are in order.
State lawmakers passed their record $46.5 billion budget April 9 – a feat both for size and the fact that even backed by billions in federal pandemic cash, Illinois is still expected to spend more than it needs to for the 21st straight year. As heads of state touted their fiscal responsibility, they also spread some campaign cheer by including tax refunds and delays that amount to $556 for the average Illinois family.
One of those “breaks” was a six-month delay in the next automatic gas tax hike worth 2.2 cents a gallon. Note: This is a delay, which means that the tax hike scheduled for July 1, 2022 will not take place until six months later and will give drivers two tax hikes in 2023, with the delayed hike being followed from normal. The second hike in 2023 will likely be huge: 3.8 cents per gallon, bringing the tax to 45.2 cents based on economists’ inflation forecasts.
So the big giveaway of the election year is not even a reduction but a delay in the next increase in 2.2 cents for six months – until shortly after the election.
This great legislative achievement is worth announcing throughout Illinois, which is why lawmakers have decreed that every gas pump should carry a 4-inch by 8-inch sign, with bold letters as follows: ” Effective July 1, 2022, the State of Illinois has suspended the fuel tax inflation adjustment until December 31, 2022. The price of this pump is expected to reflect the suspension of the tax increase.
In fact, this message is so important that lawmakers have threatened station owners with $500-a-day fines that don’t advertise the largesse of state politicians. It would cost $65,000 to challenge Governor JB Pritzker between the start date and the election.
Station owners were not amused.
“This industry will not be required to offer free advertising election year for governor,” said Josh Sharp of the Illinois Fuel and Retail Association. “Ordering companies to take part in government-constrained speech under the threat of fines and criminal penalties is reckless and unconstitutional.”
Lawsuits are being discussed.
People are already upset over gasoline prices driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and then Illinois makes it worse with high gasoline taxes averaging 78 cents a gallon and more than $1 a gallon in Chicago. You especially see the difference when Illinois crosses the Mississippi River into low-tax Missouri, where a gallon costs nearly 70 cents less.
“Springfield politicians, maybe a few of them statewide, are worried they’ll be the ones to wear the jacket for high gas prices in the fall, and now they’re doing everything they can to get their message across and let people know about this so-called relief,” Sharp said.
Illinois was once No. 10 in the nation for gasoline taxes. Now it’s #2 because in 2019 lawmakers and Pritzker decided they wanted to spend $45 billion on infrastructure (oink), and to do that they needed to double the gas tax state at 38 cents versus 19 cents per gallon. Lawmakers insulated themselves from responsibility for future gas tax votes by automatically tying annual increases to inflation.
The current rate is 39.2 cents, which costs each driver $132 more per year than before the tax was doubled. Which begs the question: how much will the six-month delay save a driver?
A little honesty at the gas pump would dictate this sign: “As of July 1, 2022, the State of Illinois has graciously permitted you to keep the cost of a fast food meal. But on January 1, 2023, forget it. You’re welcome.”
Brad Weisenstein is editor of the Illinois Policy Institute.