DuPage County, Chicago drivers facing new gas tax hikes

DuPage County, Chicago drivers facing new gas tax hikes

The same law that doubled Illinois’ gas tax is now being used by DuPage County and Chicago to fill revenue shortfalls from COVID-19.

Drivers in DuPage County and Chicago may be hit with higher prices at the pump in 2021.

Both governments are exploring increasing the gas tax to make up for revenue shortfalls after fewer people traveled in 2020 thanks to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and public health concerns.

DuPage County is proposing to double its gas tax to 8 cents, raising a projected $16 million per year. The plan comes after the county saw gas tax revenue fall by 25% since April. Leaders also believe working from home will become more normal and fewer people will be buying gas, further hurting revenue for transportation projects in the long run.

If passed, the tax increase would take effect on July 1. County leaders told the Daily Herald it would allow them to make much needed improvements to roads and bridges.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also included a gas tax increase as a part of her budget plan to raise revenue. Her proposal would raise the gas tax by 3 cents to 8 cents total. Her office estimates it would raise $10 million.

Certain counties and Chicago gained new power to raise existing gas taxes or impose new ones in 2019 from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s capital plan. The bill doubled the state gas tax to 38 cents from 19 cents per gallon starting in July 2019, plus tied it to the rate of inflation so it automatically increases each July 1. The first inflation-based increase raised the tax by 0.7 cents in July. Illinois drivers are each paying $100 more per year for gas since the first half of 2019.

State and local governments have developed a dependence on gas taxes for transportation projects. What once appeared to be a consistent revenue source has now shown volatility. Many people are staying home as much as they can to keep themselves safe from COVID-19. A full return to normal travel and office work still appears to be elusive, with no guarantee office work will ever return to pre-pandemic levels.

Raising gas taxes disproportionately hurts the workers least able to avoid them by working from home, including lower-income workers, essential workers and health care providers who still must drive to their jobs. State lawmakers could help relieve the temptation to hike local taxes by providing pension reform, so local governments’ needs of today are not continually squeezed out by the costs of the past.

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