Ron Horton was pumping $150 worth of fuel into a 50-gallon diesel tank when he learned he’ll soon be paying even more for fuel.
Horton, who lives near Bishop Hill, works at the Rock Island Arsenal, and every day he buys 100 gallons of diesel fuel to power pumps. That cost is covered by his employer.
But the gas for the little car he drives 80 miles to and from work each day isn’t.
“Where I live, there aren’t high-wage jobs. You have to live up here or drive in,” said Horton.
Gasoline prices in Illinois are expected to rise this summer, thanks to a bipartisan tax hike passed by the state legislature.
The tax raise, which takes effect on July 1, doubles the state gas tax to 38 cents per gallon. It’s one part of an ambitious $45 billion infrastructure plan, which includes $225 million for the long-awaited Moline-to-Chicago passenger rail.
In the Quad Cities, drivers like Horton can soon expect to pay more at the pump. “It’s really gonna hit your bottom line,” Horton said.
Some commercial groups have rallied behind the capital spending bill, which goes toward so-called “horizontal” infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and pipes.
“We thought it was a very wise investment for our state to make,” said Tyler Power, manager of government affairs for the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce. “It’s never popular to support tax increases, but at the same time we have to be fiscally responsible.”
Convenience stores are worried that drivers in need of fuel will migrate across the river.
“I think it’ll be devastating to the Illinois side,” said William Fleischli, executive vice president of the trade organization Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association-Illinois Association of Convenience Stores.
Fleischli, whose group represents thousands of stores across the state, lambasted three major legislative items passed this session, all of which will affect convenience stores: hikes to the minimum wage, to the cigarette tax, and to the gas tax.
The billion-dollar infrastructure bill, among other things, increases vehicle registration fees and raises the per-pack cigarette tax to $2.98, from $1.98.
Fleischli predicted gasoline sales will drop 8-10% in Illinois as a result of the tax hike.
“Business is going to be driven out of Illinois,” Fleischli said. “When you’re a higher taxing place, and there’s a lower taxing place close, people will go there.”
The gas tax hasn’t been raised in Illinois since 1990. At 38 cents, the new rate will be the highest in the Midwest, according to data from the American Petroleum Institute.
In Iowa and Wisconsin, the gas excise tax is about 31 cents per gallon. In Missouri, it is 17 cents per gallon, according to the data.
Illinois gas will rank among the most heavily taxed fuel in the country, on par with California and Pennsylvania, according to an analysis from USA Today.
The infrastructure bill was approved with bipartisan support in the legislature. Sen. Neil Anderson, a Republican who represents the Illinois Quad Cities, voted in favor of the legislation.
“As a conservative, I don’t believe in getting something for nothing. If we want nice roads, we have to pay for them,” Anderson said.
He and others emphasized the funding will be reserved for infrastructure, thanks to the passage of the “lockbox” amendment in 2016. The constitutional amendment was designed to prohibit the legislature from using infrastructure funds for non-infrastructure projects.
“This is dedicated funding,” Anderson said about the infrastructure bill. “This is not politicians spending it any way they want.”
Representative Dan Swanson, a Republican whose district covers west-central Illinois, voted against the infrastructure bill. Swanson described the gas tax raise as a “hardship.”
“For a 10 gallon tank of gas, that’s another two bucks,” Swanson said. “The concern is that we’re going to lose that revenue to Iowa. You’re most likely not just going to go to fill up your gas tank [in Iowa]; you’re going to go shopping, see a movie, or do other things you could do here in Illinois.”
Municipalities can also levy their own taxes on gasoline, fees that are typically modest. In Rock Island, for instance, the motor fuel tax adds 5 cents to each gallon of gas purchased. If state taxes displace purchases toward Iowa, municipalities might feel the effects.
But advocates of the tax hike claim it will yield other benefits, including job creation in construction.
“It’s gonna put a lot of people to work. In the Illinois Quad-Cities area, there’s a lot of road projects that need to be done,” said Power. The Chamber, he said, was part of a broad coalition of business groups across Illinois that backed the bill. “If we want people to come to our area and invest in our area, we have to pay for it.”