Calling it a setback for Illinois infrastructure, road, bridge, and highway construction industry groups are pushing back against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) proposal to temporarily freeze an automatic gas tax increase scheduled to go into effect July 1.
As part of his Illinois budget proposal presented Feb. 5, Pritzker, who is seeking re-election in November, touted a $45.4-billion proposal that, among other proposed tax freezes, would provide $135 million in relief to consumers by stopping a planned increase in the gas tax, which is slated to go up by 2.2 cents on July 1.
Representatives of road and bridge contractors say the proposal is an about-face from 2019 when Pritzker supported Rebuild Illinois, a bipartisan infrastructure law that laid out $45 billion in investments in roads, bridges, railroads and other capital projects that supporters said had been long neglected.
As part of Rebuild Illinois, the gas tax doubled to 38 cents per gallon and future increases were tied to the rate of inflation. The transportation infrastructure portion of the plan, which totals $33.2 billion, is funded by a variety of transportation revenue sources including the gas tax.
Mike Sturino, president and CEO of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, says the proposed gas tax freeze will make Illinois’ infrastructure issues worse.
"The Illinois Department of Transportation is playing catch up all of the time,” he says. "This is folly to keep ignoring or short-changing our infrastructure. We fought for the inflation index for this very reason...So we wouldn't have to go back year after year (to the state legislature) for an increase."
Kevin Burke, executive vice president of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association, agreed.
“A key component of Rebuild Illinois is the index that keeps up with the cost of inflation. This proposal will put us farther behind,” he says.
Pritzker said freezing the gas tax at its current level will save drivers and cost the state $135 million in revenue.
“Even with the $135 million, we’d still have 22% of highways that would be in unacceptable condition, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Asset Management Plan, which looks at where we want to take highways in the future,” Burke adds.
In a letter introducing the proposed budget, Pritzker said the freeze does the opposite of shortchanging infrastructure.
“It further strengthens infrastructure and creates jobs through the fourth year of Rebuild Illinois, our multi-year infrastructure program. It continues to improve services throughout state government that were underfunded and undervalued for decades, despite being essential to our success as a state and as a people,” he said.
The governor’s press secretary, Jordan Abudayye, did not respond to requests for comment. The Illinois legislature, which is controlled by Pritker's fellow democrats in both houses, would have to pass some form of the budget and Pritzker would have to sign it before July 1 to stave off the gas tax increase.