By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Higher fuel taxes could help pay for new road construction under a plan proposed by an Illinois transportation group.
The Transportation for Illinois Coalition unveiled the proposal Tuesday in Springfield. Members say it would provide stability and $1.8 billion annually for construction on roads, bridges, railways and airports.
Coalition chairman Doug Whitley said the plan is needed because a five-year capital construction program, Illinois Jobs Now, is coming to an end this year and the Illinois Department of Transportation is funded at a level that only allows maintenance.
Under the group's plan, the Legislature should raise vehicle registration fees, impose a 4-cent increase in the gas tax, a 7-cent increase in diesel fuel taxes -- coupled with the elimination of the state's commercial distribution fee -- and end ethanol credits for gasoline.
Whitley, who is president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said he has not generally supported tax and fee increases. In this case, he said a tax increase is needed to generate more revenue because cars get better gas mileage than 20 years ago and fuel tax revenues have not kept pace with inflation and the cost of transportation projects.
"We do know that current capital programs at both the federal and state level will expire this year. If there is no new money directed toward construction projects ... the transportation systems that sustain the state and nation's economy will deteriorate and cost owners added expenses for maintaining their vehicles," Whitley said in a news release.
The state gas tax hasn't been increased since 1990. The tax on gasoline now stands at 19 cents per gallon, and the diesel tax is 21.5 cents per gallon.
Bill Fleischli, executive vice president of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association, opposes the plan. He said fuel taxes already are high enough and that especially hurts fuel marketers near state borders, like Quincy.
The Legislature's bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability found in a study in 2012 that the $640 spent per capita on Illinois state and local roads in 2010 was higher than the national average of $504.
However, the same study found that Illinois' motor-fuel tax -- $102 per capita -- was 43rd among the states. And the coalition study points out the Prairie State ranks No. 3 nationally in interstate-highway system size and in bridge inventory.
The Associated Press provided information for this story.