Chicago region mayors want gas tax hike for capital projects

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CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his counterparts in the region called for a 20- to 30-cent-per-gallon increase in the motor fuel tax to help finance a new state transportation capital program.

Emanuel and other members of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus also said increases in other traditional transportation funding sources such as license fees should be on the table.

After several decades of funding shortfalls, the region is “beginning to show the wear and tear” and that translates into job losses, Emanuel said at a news conference Tuesday, flanked by other mayors.

“Our state can’t wait any longer. Over the last four years we’ve been stuck in neutral” while nearby states have passed transportation bills with gas tax increases, Emanuel said, adding that with a new governor coming in the state has a “historic” moment to act.

“We have starved our state of a fundamental economic investment and job creator,” he said.

Illinois has not raised its 19-cent-per-gallon tax since 1990 while 24 states have raised theirs since 2012, Emanuel said. Every five-cent-per-gallon increase in the motor fuel tax generates $20 million for the city and $250 million statewide.

The group wants a hike implemented and then future increases indexed to inflation.

The group of mayors joined the chorus of voices clamoring for a capital bill amid rising hope that lawmakers will move quickly after Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker takes office in January.

The $31 billion Illinois Jobs Now infrastructure program enacted in 2009 has run its course. Bipartisan support for a new package at the state capital took a backseat during the state’s two years without an operating budget and the focus earlier this year on reaching agreement on the operating budget for fiscal 2019.

Pritzker has called a capital budget a priority and Emanuel, who is not seeking a third term in the February municipal elections, has made the issue a priority before he leaves office. Potential funding sources remain vague. Pritzker has pitched legalizing recreational marijuana and expanding gambling as potential sources.

Taxes and fees approved as part of the 2009 package have fallen short of covering debt service, forcing the state to dip into its general fund, so new revenue streams are needed.

The mayors' group stressed the need for a sustainable funding source.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning warned in its recently released comprehensive plan for the region of the need for an additional $24 billion in additional funding to maintain the current system, with $32 billion needed to upgrade it.

“This has to be about achieving a permanent fix to our chronic transportation funding shortages,” CMAP executive director Joseph Szabo said at the mayoral news conference. “We are at a crisis point and the worst thing we could do now is settle for a short-term solution that will put us back in the same situation five or 10 years from now. We have to seize this moment.”

The caucus represents 275 communities and more than 9 million residents of northeastern Illinois.

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Transportation industry Infrastructure State budgets Gasoline tax State of Illinois Illinois