Bill seeks to increase Illinois' gas tax to fund road repair

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Illinois lawmakers are considering raising the state's gas tax by 19 cents a gallon and hiking vehicle fees to pay for transportation infrastructure repairs.

Legislation introduced last week proposes the state's first gas tax increase since 1990 and could raise an additional $2 billion in revenue each year, the Chicago Tribune reported. But it also would hike the electric-vehicle fee from $17.50 to $148, and increase truck registration fees by $100.

The fees for driver's licenses would double under the proposal, from $30 to $60, while passenger vehicle registration would increase from $98 to $148.

The measure was introduced by Democratic Sen. Martin Sandoval of Chicago. Sandoval, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said he hoped to start a conversation about investing in transportation.

"We have been underfunding our transportation infrastructure for decades and the end result is that we now have pothole-ridden roads that we can't afford to fix and more than 2,300 bridges that are rated as structurally deficient," Sandoval said in a statement. "The problem has been left to worsen for too long, and now is the time for leadership and decisive action."

Some transportation advocates say they support the tax increase because it creates a more sustainable funding source than a one-time investment.

Transportation funding decisions also should consider factors including job access, water quality and equity, said MarySue Barrett, president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, which tracks regional transit and infrastructure issues.

"We want reform and revenue to go together, to make sure we invest smartly," said Barrett.

The Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, argued that the state's existing gas tax is already high.

"Doubling the state gas tax would bring Illinois to the second-highest overall gas tax burden in the nation, Orphe Divounguy, the institute's chief economist, said in a statement. "Frankly, Illinoisans can't afford it - especially low-income and downstate drivers who would be disproportionately burdened."

Officials should focus on eliminating waste and corruption, Divounguy said.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com