Proposed gas tax hike may not be worth political capital needed to pass it

My friends at Active Transportation Alliance celebrated Leap Day with a bold new proposal - raise the state gasoline by indexing it to inflation.

"The Transit Fast Forward bill (SB 3236) invests in faster, more reliable, more frequent and expanded transit service through a new, dedicated source of funding that will grow over time," according to a blog post on the ActiveTrans website.

According to ActiveTrans, the bill:

  • Indexes state motor fuel tax to inflation, adjusted annually
  • Directs new incremental revenue to the Public Transportation Fund; road funds unaffected
  • Applies only to the six counties served by CTA, Metra and Pace
  • Helps rebuild aging infrastructure and expand service with projects like Bus Rapid Transit
  • Helps transit agencies manage rising costs due to inflation and partially offset chronic funding shortfalls that have led to service cuts
  • Estimated 2013 increase in state motor fuel tax: two-fifths of a cent per gallon
  • Estimated new revenue for transit in 2013: $11.6 million
  • Estimated total new revenue for transit over first five years: $168 million
  • Last increase in state motor fuel tax: 1990
  • Increase in CTA train fare since 1990: 80 percent

As I say, this is a bold move, especially at a time when gas prices are rising, and the talk is about cutting taxes, not increasing them. I laud the effort, but I just don't think it's worth the political capital that legislators will have to spend to pass it for a measly $11.6 million more in new revenue. And that has to be spread among the CTA, Metra and Pace.

As much as I would love to see this pass - and I have supported an increase in the gas tax in the past - I just don't see it happening now.

If you want, you can tell your state legislator to support the bill through the ActiveTrans website.

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  • Kevin -- Nothing bold gets done without some healthy optimism. Keep in mind that the indexing means that every year the annual amount of funding created by this bill will grow. In 2013 it's $11.6M, but in 2014 it's projected at $21.8M, and by 2017 $57.1M, etc. This is not an insignificant sum of money, and could make a very real difference in the lives of transit riders. Yes, we need to do more, and this is a good start.

    Rising gas prices demonstrate exactly why we need to provide better transportation options in the region. At a time when residents are increasingly looking for alternatives to driving, we need to be talking about how to address the chronic underfunding of transit. We can't afford to continue down the road of fare increases and service cuts any longer. The public knows this. I think our legislators do too, but if they don't, then transit riders need to speak up loud and clear so they get the message.

    - Lee Crandell, Active Trans

  • Thanks for your thoughts Lee. I do appreciate ActiveTrans' leadership on this. And good point about how indexing the tax will make it grow.

    I really do hope it passes; I'm just dubious that the legislature has the cahoonas to pass it.

  • The state gas tax is only $0.19 cents per gallon (and not all of it goes towards transportation). So if you drive 15,000 miles per year in a car that average 25 miles per gallon, you only spend $114 a year on state gas taxes. That's pretty insignificant compared to how much you spend on gas. Raise it. Our transportation infrastructure is worth a little extra.

  • JWirtz: I agree. I just don't see the legislature agreeing.

  • Kevin, I had a strong reaction to this, too, but it was a bit different. Why make a change like this for a lousy two-fifths of a cent per gallon? Geez, in Europe the gas taxes are measured in dollars (well, euros) and here we are cranking it up from 19 cents to 19.4? If it were a nickel per gallon, or a quarter, now THAT would make a difference in our transit infrastructure.

    Of course, in this political climate I suppose that's a fantasy, but a man can dream, right?

  • In reply to PatrickBarry:

    Patrick -- I'd definitely encourage you to tell your state legislators if you think this doesn't go far enough. You can edit the form in the action page to create your own message: http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50110/p/dia/action/public/index.sjs?action_KEY=7185

  • Patrick Berry is right that .0.4 cent is not much difference one way or the other, and I'm sure that the station will keep the other 0.6 cent. But, the question for Lee Crandell and probably also Cheryl:

    Why do transit activists assume that someone else should pay?

    I know there was the discussion here about how the roads will be congested if there is no transit, but that goes only so far. As I mentioned before, buses won't be able to use them if they are all potholed.

    Next:

    What is transit activists' reaction to the survey on the "hypothetical" fare increase?

    The survey headline was on the web, including here, about 2 weeks before it made the usual media. But, as I predicted about 4 months ago, the "hypothetical" will be deleted by midyear.

    Finally, with regard to the projections in the first post:

    What happens if President Obama is correct that high gas prices are resulting in conservation? Part of the problem with the current federal gas tax collections is that hybrids and electrics pay far less, and even the mandated 40 mph cars do. Then what does the RTA do?

    As far as Kevin being dubious, I agree that he should be. If you remember, transit activists like Tony Copelletta got our RTA taxes raised in 2008; he got a job out of it; we got the bill, and CTA is still consistently around $100 million in the hole (hence the $11 million means comparatively nothing as far as folks like Claypool are concerned). At least Emanuel was asked yesterday, in connection with his Clinton infrastructure trust (which he said had nothing to do with CTA, except for BRT) what safeguards would be put in place to see that the money was properly spent. Given that both the legislature and RTA made a mockery of the 2007 Auditor General's report, what safeguards do you propose, Lee?

    You know I will be checking back for answers.

  • Patrick, when you put it that way, it does make sense to go for more. But realistically, I just don't see the legislature approving this. I do applaud the Active Transportation Alliance for stepping up with the plan.

  • jack said 1 day ago
    ...
    You know I will be checking back for answers.

    I don't have to mention what we established Claypool did last July when asked a hard question.

    So, "transit advocates" are no different. Lee Crandell is willing to answer a "me too" question to the effect of "ask the legislature for even more," but is unwilling to answer any tough question even after 24 hours have passed.

    So, everyone here get on this bandwagon with no substance. In the meantime, he got his free publicity for an ineffective idea to try to get someone else to pay. Typical.

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