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State

Road group seeks tax tied to gas cost

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Illinois transit advocates want to tie a tax on gasoline to the price at the pump as part of an aggressive fundraising effort to get a toehold on what they say are rapidly deteriorating roads, rails, and bridges.

The Transportation for Illinois Coalition is pushing legislation to impose a 9.5 percent tax on the wholesale price of fuel — adding about 13 cents a gallon at today's prices — along with vehicle license and registration fee increases to raise about $800 million a year, coalition co-chairman Doug Whitley told The Associated Press.

That's still a far cry from what the coalition says is a price tag of more than $65 billion in the next five years to catch up with and modernize roads and mass transit.

And it comes at the same time the $31 billion statewide capital construction program adopted in 2009 expires, dropping the available money annually for transportation improvement by $2 billion, and no long-term funding program on the horizon, said Whitley, who's also president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Whitley, who laid out the plan to the AP in advance of discussing it publicly, said a coalition study found that without "significant investment," by 2018, one in every three miles of roads and 10 percent of all bridges will be in "unacceptable" condition. Chicago-area motorists spend $292 annually in higher automobile operating costs because of poor road conditions.

"We face a transportation infrastructure crisis in the state of Illinois," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat sponsoring legislation to implement the plan, "and we do not have the revenues to do the fixes that we need in order to make sure our highways are operating at peak efficiency and our bridges are safe for travel."

The wholesale fuel tax would replace the current 19-cents-a-gallon motor-fuel tax. Indexing the fee to the price of gasoline would mean that at today's statewide average price of $4.20 per gallon, motorists would pay 38 cents, or double what they do now.

Bill Fleishli of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association said the proposal means gasoline distributors would have to pay the motor-fuel tax before selling it, unlike the way the tax is paid now. That will cause cash-flow problems for smaller retailers, particularly when, as fuel prices rise, people use less of it.

"It will put the squeeze on people, because you haven't sold the product, and at $4 a gallon, it's going to be a while before you sell it," Fleishli said.

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The bills are HB3637 and SB2589.

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Online

Illinois General Assembly: http://www.ilga.gov

Transportation for Illinois Coalition: http://tficillinois.org/

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Contact AP Political Writer John O'Connor at http://www.twitter.com/apoconnor

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