Cook County ends $80 ‘wheel tax’ for 50,000 drivers

Cook County ends $80 ‘wheel tax’ for 50,000 drivers

The Cook County Board voted unanimously to repeal the sticker mandate on drivers living in unincorporated Cook County starting in 2023. Drivers will save at least $80 a year.

The Cook County Board voted unanimously Sept. 22 to “permanently” end the wheel tax for drivers living in unincorporated Cook County, saving 50,000 residents at least $80 in annual vehicle sticker fees.

The ordinance repealing the “regressive and unnecessary” tax will save drivers $80 to $100 a year, based on the size of their vehicle. Owners of semis, tractors and buses will save between $100 and $230, depending on weight.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said any lost revenue is negligible compared to how much removing it will save families, particularly for the disproportionately impacted “Black and Brown residents of Cook County who can least afford to pay it.”

Preckwinkle and all 17 County Board seats are up for re-election Nov. 8.

In recent years, the wheel tax has generated an average $3.6 million annually for the county. Preckwinkle said the savings on annual administrative costs and enforcement, which finance officials estimated at $500,000 a year, “outweigh its gains.”

There are 159 municipalities in the Chicago area that collect wheel taxes ranging from $5 to $90 as of 2021, according to a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning report. Recently, Oak LawnDes Plaines, LombardHoffman EstatesRosemont and Palatine ended theirs.

While unincorporated Cook County drivers are the most recent to escape sticker mandates, the City of Chicago, the largest city in the county, still requires drivers to pay $90 a year in sticker fees.

The tax is one among numerous regressive fees imposed on Chicagoans by the city, alongside speed camera tickets, red-light camera tickets, parking tickets and vehicle booting and towing. Experts have concluded these fees disproportionately impact low-income and minority drivers, leading to spiraling debt.

Chicago speed cameras alone issued 2.81 million citations in 2021, sending more tickets to drivers in one year than there are residents in the nation’s third-largest city.

Despite recent modest – and temporary – reforms to ease the impact of fines on low-income Chicagoans, Department of Finance data showed 40% of the city’s most lucrative cameras were on Chicago’s South Side in the first half of 2022.

Corroborating studies by the University of Illinois-Chicago and ProPublica found Black and Latino households receive a disproportionate number of these tickets compared to the rest of the city, accruing speed and red-light camera tickets at twice the rate of white residents.

The unanimously approved ordinance to remove the wheel tax in unincorporated Cook County will go into effect June 30, 2023.

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