New Illinois law forces gas stations to campaign for Pritzker
The content of the signs isn’t quite as important as the message being delivered to Illinois’ gas station owners: “Push our campaign agenda, or we’ll treat you like a criminal and fine you $500 per day.”
A new crop of political signs is sprouting across Illinois, but rather than decorating the roadsides, these are on gas pumps. They contain a lot of legally-prescribed words, but here’s the gist: “Save 2.2 cents a gallon for six months. Vote for J.B.”
Still, the content of the signs isn’t quite as important as the message being delivered to Illinois’ gas station owners: “Push our campaign agenda, or we’ll treat you like a criminal and fine you $500 per day.”
Some explanation is in order.
State lawmakers passed their record $46.5 billion budget April 9 – an achievement for both size and the fact that even propped up with billions in federal pandemic cash, Illinois is still projected to spend more than it takes in for the 21st consecutive year. As state leaders touted their fiscal responsibility, they also spread a little campaign cheer by including tax rebates and delays that amount to $556 for the average Illinois family.
One of those “breaks” was a six-month delay in the next, automatic gas tax hike worth 2.2 cents per gallon. Note: It is a delay, meaning the tax hike scheduled for July 1, 2022, won’t hit until six months later and will give drivers two tax hikes in 2023 as the delayed one is followed by the regular one. The second bump in 2023 likely will be a whopper: 3.8 cents a gallon, taking the tax up to 45.2 cents based on economists’ inflation predictions.
So, the big election-year gift is not even a cut but a delay of the upcoming hike of 2.2 cents for six months – until shortly after the election.
This grand legislative achievement is worth trumpeting across Illinois, so lawmakers decreed each gas pump should carry a sign, 4 inches by 8 inches, with bold lettering reading as follows: “As of July 1, 2022, the State of Illinois has suspended the inflation adjustment to the motor fuel tax through December 31, 2022. The price on this pump should reflect the suspension of the tax increase.”
In fact, that message is so important that lawmakers threatened $500-a-day fines to station owners who fail to herald state politicians’ largess. It would cost $65,000 to defy Gov. J.B. Pritzker between the start date and the election.
Station owners were not amused.
“This industry won’t be forced into offering free election year advertising for the governor,” Josh Sharp, of the Illinois Fuel and Retail Association, said. “Ordering businesses to take part in speech that is compelled by the government under the threat of fines and criminal penalties is unwise and unconstitutional.”
Lawsuits are being discussed.
People are already upset over gas prices driven up by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, then Illinois makes matters worse with high gas taxes averaging 78 cents a gallon and over $1 a gallon in Chicago. You especially see the difference when Illinoisans cross the Mississippi River to low-tax Missouri, where a gallon is nearly 70 cents cheaper.
“Politicians in Springfield, perhaps a few of them running statewide, fear that they’re going to be the ones to wear the jacket for high gas prices during the fall, and now they’re doing everything they can to get their message out and let people know about this so-called relief,” Sharp said.
Illinois was once No. 10 in the nation for gas taxes. Now it’s No. 2, because in 2019 legislators and Pritzker decided they wanted to spend $45 billion on infrastructure (oink), and to do so needed to double the state gas tax to 38 cents from 19 cents per gallon. Lawmakers insulated themselves from responsibility for future gas tax votes by automatically linking annual increases to inflation.
The current rate is 39.2 cents, which costs each driver $132 more per year than before the tax was doubled. Which begs the question: How much will the six-month delay save a driver?
A little honesty at the gas pump would dictate this sign: “As of July 1, 2022, the State of Illinois has graciously allowed you to keep the price of a fast-food meal. But on Jan. 1, 2023, forget it. You’re welcome.”
This article originally appeared on The Center Square.
Sign the petition
Stop Pritzker’s automatic gas tax hikes
Sign our petition to put an end to Gov. Pritzker’s annual gas tax hikes – and pledge to vote in the 2022 election.
Learn More >