Douglas L. Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, (left) and Joseph P. Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute and professor in the DePaul University Graduate School of Public Service. (Scott Stewart~Sun-Times)
The motor fuel tax in Illinois may be starting to run out of gas.
The motor fuel tax is the main source of funding for the state's road construction and maintenance. In planning circles, though, some people are wondering whether it's time to make a change.
In Illinois, the motor fuel tax is 19 cents per gallon of gasoline and 21 cents for diesel.
There's also a state sales tax of 6.25 percent, but that goes into general revenues, not just for roads. Chicago levies its own 3.5 percent tax.
The problem, as planners see it, is that motor fuel tax revenues aren't keeping pace with the cost of building and maintaining roads.
The gasoline tax hasn't changed for about two decades, so in real dollars it's been going down. Meanwhile, vehicles are getting more fuel-efficient (so motorists are buying fewer gallons of gasoline), more electric cars are on the roads and some large truck fleets are converting to compressed natural gas or propane. The owners of those vehicles aren't kicking in to the motor fuel tax fund.
Meanwhile, new federal standards are going to push auto fuel efficiency even higher.
"I definitely see we are going to have to have a fresh thought about how we are going to get alternatively fueled vehicles to finance roads," says Douglas Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. "You want people to buy alternatively fueled vehicles, but if they are not investing in the road infrastructure, then who is left to carry the burden of the miles traveled in that vehicle?"
One alternative is the "vehicle miles traveled" tax, which charges a motorist by the miles traveled. Under a VMT system, a special GPS unit in a car tracks the miles traveled and calculates the tax.
Oregon ran a successful VMT pilot program in 2007, and the University of Iowa Public Policy Center is conducting a four-year study of a mileage-based use fee. Joseph P. Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute and professor in the DePaul University Graduate School of Public Service, says trucks have been doing something similar "for 100 years."
On the federal level, the idea drew interest from retiring Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, but a White House press secretary subsequently said a VMT tax would not be the policy of the Obama administration.
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