Hey, Illinois drivers, how’d you like to pay 1.5 cents per mile for the privilege of driving your car, truck or bus in our state?
OK, now that I have your attention, this is an idea we must take seriously because it comes from Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
Cullerton dropped Senate Bill 3267 in the hopper last week, surprising legislators and the public alike. Call it the “Prius Bill” because the hybrid by Toyota is the car Cullerton singled out. He said that if all cars were electric (or hybrids), there would be little or no money to pay for roads because hybrids don’t burn much gas and electric cars burn no gas at all.
Cullerton’s bill would give car owners three options. They could choose to pay $450 for a year’s worth or 30,000 miles of driving. They could have a GPS chip installed in their cars, allowing the state to track their mileage. Presumably, the GPS would know when they venture into Wisconsin.
Finally, they could pay according to their odometer reading, and they’d have to keep track of when they left the state and how many miles they traveled.
Illinois car owners would get a rebate from the gas taxes they already pay, but they’d have to remember to file their receipts and send them to Springfield.
All of this would require a huge bureaucracy and too much snooping for comfort. How long would it take before a state’s attorney tried to get hold of someone’s GPS record from the state in order to prove a person wasn’t where he was supposed to be? About two minutes.
So, why is Cullerton doing this?
As I see it, this is merely a conversation starter. See, the way we fund road construction and repair is based partly on an excise tax per gallon of gasoline. The state excise tax has been 19 cents a gallon since 1990. That’s coupled with a federal tax of 18 cents per gallon.
Illinois is among a handful of states that also add a sales tax on the amount of sale — a 6.25 percent tax on a tax. But the sales tax money is not used for roads; the money goes into general revenue. Ditto for city, county and other sales taxes added by various jurisdictions.
As is often the case in the U.S., the government is working against itself. The federal government has been pushing relentlessly for motor vehicles to get more miles to the gallon by mandating more efficient cars, trucks and buses. And it’s working. Today’s vehicles are vastly more efficient and cleaner burning than those of 30 years ago. Hybrids and electric cars will only add to that efficiency.