Drivers could soon be paying more at the pump if the Senate approves measures to double the state’s gas tax to pay for statewide road projects.
The day after Friday’s legislative deadline to pass bills with simple majorities, the House waived rules and immediately voted on an amendment to Senate Bill 1939 to fund roads, bridges and rail projects with a 19 cent gas tax hike that brings the state’s tax to 38 cents a gallon. The state's vehicle registration fee would be increased from $98 a year to $148 a year.
State Rep. Larry Walsh, D-Elwood, said voting to increase taxes was difficult, and he expects to hear from his constituents.
“I’ve voted for tax increases before. It’s a hard vote to take. But it’s something that we are obligated to do,” Walsh said. “My folks back at home … are not going to like it, and I’m going to hear about it, but at the end of the day, I want them to be safe.”
Republicans were split on the issue.
State Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, said he was ready to vote for it.
“As painful as it is, as much as it’s going to hurt, this is one tax that is probably long overdue,” Reick said. “We’re going to see the sales tax on the motor fuel tax starting in 2021 a penny a year will go into the motor fuel fund.”
State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said with the talk of a progressive income tax that Democrats call a “fair tax,” increasing the gas tax is regressive on the elderly, on single parents.
“Think about the people who can’t afford this," he said. "Think about the people who are struggling to get by. Think about your constituents who can’t afford this.”
Before the gas tax amendment was revealed late Saturday, state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Louisville, said taxpayers would be willing to pay more if they saw some reforms to a variety of things to spur economic activity.
“Voters, especially in my district, might be willing to give up something if they know what they’re getting,” Bailey said. “But it’s not simply spending more taxes to get something, it’s also we need relief from property taxes."
Because the vote was past the May 31 end-of-session deadline, it required a three-fifths majority. The measure passed 83 to 29.
Twenty Republicans voted in favor of the tax increase. Seven Democrats voted against it.
State Rep. Blain Wilhour, R-Beecher City, said Republicans supporting the gas tax hike without ways to shore up the size of government were giving cover to Democrats in contested districts.
“I don’t think it bodes well for the party’s future, to be honest with you,” Wilhour said. “It does put some of our districts that we should be winning in Southern Illinois [in jeopardy]. It certainly doesn’t help us in that regard, I don’t think.”
The downstate Democrats who voted against the gas tax increase were state Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville; state Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey; and state Rep. Nathan Reitz, D-Steeleville. Some suburban Democrats who voted against the gas tax hike include state Rep. Terra Costa-Howard, D-Lombard; state Rep Mary Edly-Allen, D-Libertyville; state Rep. Diane Pappas, D-Itasca; and state Rep. Joyce Mason, D-Gurnee.
Bailey also said the Republicans supporting the tax increase without getting reforms will hurt the Republican caucus.
“I think we’re getting outsmarted, I think we’re getting outwitted, I think we’re getting outplayed,” Bailey said. “It’s been going on forever. Where’s it got us? That’s the question.”
State Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, was one of the 20 Republicans who voted for the measure.
“I understand that concern [of giving Democrats cover] and that's been discussed a lot. It might,” Murphy said before the vote. “I might sound naive when I say this but the reason I came here was to make Illinois a better state. The reason I came here was not to get elected again in 2020. If what I do merits that, fine, but I’m going to vote my conscience … I will defend my position at all times.”
Immediately after the gas tax hike, the House then passed a horizontal construction plan that the Senate already approved.
“Now we’re distributing [the revenue], we’re sending it out,” said state Rep. Margo McDermed, R-Mokena. “What we have here is pay-go money. It’s money we don’t have to bond. It’s money that we don’t have to borrow.”
The construction plan bill now heads to the governor, who is expected to sign it.
Vertical construction projects will get funding with a measure to expand gambling. That measure, which also passed Saturday evening, increases the number of casinos, the number of video gambling machines and how much people can bet and win, increases taxes on video gaming machines, increases the number of table games at locations like horse racing tracks, legalizes sports betting, and more.
“It’s a jobs bill. It’s going to create jobs. It’s going to create economic development,” state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, said.
“Legalizing sports betting and expanding gaming will create jobs up and down the state, from Rockford to Chicago to Walker’s Bluff, where communities hungry for employment will see 10,000 new jobs,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement Saturday.
After a series of other votes, House Speaker Michael Madigan adjourned the spring session. He said the session was historic with the passage of a variety of measures including raising the state's minimum wage, legalizing recreational cannabis, approving sports wagering and other measures.
“We have taken steps to make our economy stronger: higher wages for working families and equal pay for women; career training to prepare workers for high-wage jobs; and tax credits that invest in businesses that invest in Illinois," Madigan said in a statement.
The Senate is in session Sunday afternoon to take up the various measures the House passed late Saturday, which include the gas tax increase, the gambling expansion and other measures.