FILE - Gas station, fuel tax, infrastructure

(The Center Square) – It’ll cost about a nickel or a dime more when filling up with gas in Illinois starting Wednesday when the state’s gas tax increases seven-tenths of a penny, a year after state lawmakers doubled the gas tax and tied annual increases to the rate of inflation.

Last year lawmakers passed a doubling of the state’s gas tax from 19 cents a gallon to 38 cents a gallon. And the tax receipts show it. From July 2019 to May 2020, Illinois drivers paid $1.24 billion more than the same time the year before. The same law also pegged future increases to the consumer price index.

The annual increase tied to the Consumer Price Index raises the gas tax Wednesday from 38 cents to 38.7 cents a gallon.

State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, voted against the measure last year. Tuesday he questioned the idea of annual tax increases that are automatic.

“How can you write a law, and how can you vote to pass a law that increases taxes every single year forever, no matter what the legislature does?” Skillicorn said. “They literally have to repeal it to get rid of it.”

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, voted for the increase last year and said if lawmakers want to repeal the automatic increase in the future, they can craft that bill, but he said the tax increase is important for the state’s transportation network.

“This will allow it to go up gradually to keep pace with inflation so hopefully we won’t get to a point down the road where the gas tax is doubled,” Butler said. “This should just allow us to continue a good program for well into the future, probably well after I’m out of the general assembly and probably in the ground as well.”

Others have said the money is protected because of the transportation fund lockbox in the state constitution. Skillicorn said people are right to be skeptical.

“Just because we have a lockbox, does that mean that this is corruption free,” Skillicorn said. “The guilty plea from Martin Sandoval clearly says that that’s not the case.”

Before former Cicero state Sen. Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty to taking bribes to protect the redlight camera industry, he was part of the negotiations to double the state’s gas tax.

While the state is collecting more in motor fuel taxes, gas stations have sold fewer gallons since the tax increased.

From July 2019 to May 2020, Illinois drivers paid more than $2.15 billion. That’s $1.24 billion more than the same time the year before. From July 2019 to February 2020, the most recent data available, there were around 4 million fewer gallons sold to Illinois drivers than during the same time period the year prior.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.