A state lawmaker is calling for a repeal of Illinois’ recent gas tax hike.
Illinois drivers paid nearly $100 million more in gas taxes in July than in the same month in 2018 after lawmakers doubled the state's gas tax to pay for infrastructure projects. The state's gas tax increased from 19 cents a gallon to 38 cents a gallon on July 1. It was part of a slew of tax and fee increases that will be used to pay for a six-year, $45 billion statewide infrastructure program.
State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, voted against the tax increase. He said he wants it to be repealed, in part because of the cloud of suspicion around Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago. Federal agents raided Sandoval's home and offices looking into allegations involving a kickback scheme, according to media reports.
“The rumor around town is that he was on the take and now federal investigators are searching his home, his office, and even though he hasn’t been officially charged with a crime yet, you have to assume there’s a little bit of wrong going on,” Skillicorn said.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has not made a decision on Sandoval's leadership of the Senate Transportation Committee. Sandoval has not been charged with a crime.
“As the Senate President has said, clearly recent events are troubling," Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said Wednesday. "At the same time, Sen. Sandoval has not been accused of any wrongdoing. The Senate President will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate action as developments warrant.”
Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Sandoval should step down or be removed. Sandoval helped to pass the state’s gas tax hike through the legislature.
“The capital bill is too important,” Pritzker said. “The people of Illinois deserve to know that the capital bill is being executed in the proper way and we do have safeguards in place and we’re continuing to look at upping the ante to make sure those safeguards are as strong as possible.”
Other lawmakers said the federal investigation is a sign that the system is working and that potential corruption is being investigated. Skillicorn said Illinois’ longstanding reputation for corruption and self-dealing was evidence that the system hasn't been working.
“And it’s ridiculous to expect a governor that’s being investigated for property tax fraud to be the person that is leading the charge against corruption,” Skillicorn said.
It was revealed earlier this year by the Chicago Sun-Times that Pritzker was under federal investigation for removing toilets from an adjacent Gold Coast mansion in what a government watchdog called a "scheme to defraud" before he became governor. Pritzker has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime. He paid the county back for the more $300,000 tax break he got for removing the toilets.
Skillicorn said the cloud around Sandoval wasn't the only reason to repeal the gas tax increase.
“Every single time we pass taxes we don’t include any reforms and that’s wrong and that’s what the people of Illinois are feeling right now at the pump,” he said.
State Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, who voted for the tax increase, said the state needs the money from the gas tax hike.
“I strongly feel like we needed to improve the revenue stream,” Murphy said. “It hadn’t been changed in 20 years. I think some of the things that we did in this bill will make it so in the future we can make sure we take care of our roads and bridges. We just let them go into disrepair into unbelievable amounts.”
The measure not only doubled the state’s gas tax, but it indexes the gas tax to inflation so it will increase every year. The measure did not include measures to reduce costs for public works projects.
“We need a clean bill and this is just the Chicago way of how things happen in Illinois,” Skillicorn said.