State gov’t officials form task force for rising fuel costs

By Richard Snowden

With gasoline prices at record highs, Illinois state government officials announced the formation of a task force on Aug. 31 to address the problem of rising fuel costs.

The task force, led by state Rep. Bill Black, (R-Danville), seeks solutions to gas prices that have shot up nearly 30 percent in Illinois over the past year, according to AAA Chicago.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, (R-Hinckley), said some possible responses under consideration include promoting increased use of alternative fuels such as ethanol, suspending state fuel taxes and sales taxes on gas purchases and reducing fees on Illinois’ trucking industry, which has been hit hard by rising fuel costs.

Pritchard said enacting legislation requiring a minimum amount of ethanol to be added to all gasoline sold in Illinois could provide some relief from skyrocketing gas prices, which are being driven primarily by an upsurge in crude petroleum prices.

“Some states, Minnesota being among them, already have legislation requiring a minimum ethanol blend of 10 percent,” said Pritchard, who represents DeKalb and the surrounding area in the state legislature and is a member of the task force. “If we did that in Illinois, we could reduce our consumption of petroleum by 10 percent.”

Pritchard also stressed the need to declare a temporary moratorium on fuel sales taxes levied by the state.

“The state is having a bonanza with revenues from fuel sales taxes,” Pritchard said. “We need to look at enacting a sales tax holiday on fuel.”

Illinois levies a flat tax of 19 cents per gallon on gasoline in addition to a sales tax of 6.25 percent that is applied to all gas purchases.

The fuel taxes, combined with high gas prices, expensive toll road fees and other fees levied on trucking firms by the state, make it difficult for truckers to do business in Illinois, said George Billows, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association.

Billows pointed to state commercial distribution fees implemented in July 2003, which increased the cost of licensing semi tractors by 32 percent, as a particular problem for Illinois’ trucking industry.

“A company with 10 or 20 trucks took a hit of $10,000 to $20,000 in most cases (because of the fee),” Billows said. “Some companies could no longer afford to do business in Illinois, so they’ve moved out of state or gone out of business.”

Because of contractual agreements with clients that cap the amount by which trucking firms can increase their prices, many firms cannot pass the increased operating costs resulting from fuel price increases on to their clients, Billows said.

The task force has scheduled public hearings on the issue. Danville hosted the first hearing Sept. 8 and the task force tentatively plans to hold further hearings in Chicago, Effingham, Quincy, Rockford and Springfield.

In addition to Black and Pritchard, the task force includes 14 other state representatives.