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SPRINGFIELD - The high price of fuel is taking a toll on your tax dollars too. With gas prices averaging well above $3 per gallon, new state documents show the cost to top off the Illinois' massive fleet of state-owned vehicles could rise almost 50 percent in the coming year.

The Illinois Department of Central Management Services contracts all state gas purchases with a single credit card provider, Wright Express. Records show that officials are budgeting $20 million with the Maine-based company this year, up from $14 million last year.

Sue Hofer, a CMS spokesperson, said the increase is strictly a function of rising fuel prices and not any hidden costs associated with Wright, which has earned $56 million from doing business with the state since 2003.

Hofer said the state might not even spend that much on fuel.

"The contract is an estimated amount of use," she said. "If gas prices go down then we won't use the whole amount."

Hofer added that officials are not anticipating an increase in gas consumption by state vehicles.

The agency operates a fleet of 12,000 vehicles throughout the state while using 15,000 Wright credit cards for fuel purchases.

Illinois State Police spokesman Sergeant Brian Ley said he has not heard of any plans in his office to cut down on consumption. Troopers burned 2.8 million gallons of fuel last year.

Mike Claffey, spokesman with the Illinois Department of Transportation, said his office plans to once again mow grass along state highways only twice instead of three times this summer.

"We did it last year and it's an easy step we could take," he said, before adding that areas with sight or safety issues will be mowed as needed.

Claffey said he did not know exactly how much IDOT was saving by cutting back on mowing.

"But mowing two times instead of three is significant savings when you consider all the roads you have to cover," he said.


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