Pritzker on July 1 forcing gas stations to put political ads on pumps

Pritzker on July 1 forcing gas stations to put political ads on pumps

A trade group representing gas station owners is suing the Pritzker administration over the requirement to advertise a delayed gas tax hike starting July 1. Owners said they’re being forced to promote political rhetoric, violating their right to free speech.

On July 1, Illinois’ gas station owners will be forced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to put what they say are political ads on their pumps, but they are fighting back.

Their trade organization is suing the Illinois Department of Revenue to stop the Pritzker administration from forcing them to display election-year messaging about a delay in the automatic annual gas tax hike.

Rob Forsyth, owner of 79 MotoMart gas stations in six states, said if he doesn’t want to advertise fiscal policy just before an election, that’s his right.

“It’s political speech,” Forsyth said. “The freedom of speech is not just that you can say what you want with a few limits, but also that you’re not forced to say what other people want you to say.”

Pritzker imposed the annual July 1 inflation adjustment, which lets state lawmakers escape voting on unpopular gas tax hikes, in 2019 when he doubled the gas tax to 38 cents from 19 cents.

Part of Pritzker’s $46.5 billion 2023 budget, which starts July 1, included a six-month delay in this year’s automatic gas tax hike. The delay means drivers face two gas tax hikes in 2023, when the tax is expected to hit 45.2 cents per gallon.

The new budget also forces gas station owners to put stickers on their pumps giving Pritzker and lawmakers a pat on the back for the tax delay. Gas stations that don’t comply must pay $500-a-day fines, meaning a protesting retailer could rack up $65,000 in fines between the start date of July 1 through Election Day on Nov. 8.

Grocery stores are also required to display signs touting a 12-month suspension in the 1% state sales tax on food, but they aren’t subject to fines for failing to comply like gas station owners.

The lawsuit claims the mandate violates “Equal Protection rights guaranteed by the United States and State of Illinois Constitutions” because only certain businesses face fines.

Pritzker said the pause in the annual gas tax hike was a strategy to lower prices, but it’s really just an election-year gimmick that pushes off when people will pay more.

“They won’t pay any less at all,” said Josh Sharp, Illinois Fuel and Retailers Association chief executive officer. “Only thing Illinois is doing is delaying a gas tax increase until January and calling that a tax cut.”

The same government union leaders who advocated for the gas tax hike are now spending millions of dollars to pass a constitutional amendment in November 2022. Amendment 1, also known as the "Workers Rights Amendment," would guarantee a $2,100 property tax hike for the typical Illinois homeowner.

If Pritzker and state lawmakers were really interested in helping families coping with $6 a gallon gas, they would never have put Amendment 1 on the ballot and would repeal the automatic annual tax increase.

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