BLOOMINGTON — McLean County officials are on board with calls to raise the state's gas tax to pay for road improvements.
As state legislators consider whether to increase the tax, assessed at 19 cents per gallon whenever motorists fuel up in Illinois, to pay for an infrastructure bill, County Board Chair John McIntyre said such a plan would be a boon for the state's geographically largest county outside Cook.
"Our highway engineers have done a great job making do, but our schedule of improvement on roads has continued to be a problem," he said. "Our motor fuel tax fund continues to decrease over the years, and we have a lot of highway miles to take care of. ... We need a hike in motor fuel tax, and it's got to be the state tax for us."
McIntyre told about 100 people gathered for Tuesday's State of McLean County event at the McLean County Museum of History — sponsored by the McLean County Chamber of Commerce — that declining fuel sales, as cars become more efficient and switch to different power sources, make the issue critical.
"By 2030, we're going to have even fewer uses of (fuel), so we want to be sure we're in a situation where we continue to provides the services (needed)," he said.
McIntyre noted the county, unlike Bloomington and Normal, cannot levy its own motor fuel tax under state law. Officials have pushed for downstate counties to get that power, which a few Chicago-area counties already have.
"The county has advocated for several years for an increase in overall motor fuel tax to make up for that declining revenue, recognizing that it is not the long-term answer, but also recognizing that significant changes to the taxing structure generally take long periods of time," said County Administrator Bill Wasson. "We are in need, especially after a hard winter."
The issue also is pressing for the county's smaller communities, said Arrowsmith Mayor Chad Walden and Danvers Mayor Tom Caisley during the event. Townships share responsibility for local road work with the county and state, and they receive a special property tax levy for it, but no local gas tax.
"A lot of us are working on infrastructure issues after a hard winter. It hits us pretty hard. A lot of our road surfaces are not asphalt or concrete. A lot of them are chip and seal, and stuff like that. The freeze/thaw (cycle) really laid havoc with them this year," said Walden. "We're figuring out how we can get the most done with tax dollars."
Bloomington in March hiked its gas tax from 4 cents to 8 cents, effective Wednesday. Normal officials have discussed but not acted on a matching increase.