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Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s capital projects plan would fix infrastructure, increase fees and taxes

KEITH HERNANDEZ khernandez@shawmedia.comMay 24, 2019

DeKALB – DeKalb County would see some of the $41.5 billion capital funding bill to repair and develop infrastructure throughout Illinois, but the capital projects would be funded through fee and tax increases.

A proposed 19-cent-a-gallon increase in the state motor fuel tax would double the $1.3 million the county currently receives from Springfield for road projects. That is a significant amount of money, DeKalb County Engineer Nathan Schwartz said, but only a fraction of what the county Highway Department raises and spends each year.

The highway department’s three main sources of funding, property taxes and state and federal motor fuel taxes, brought in $5.5 million in 2018 according to the 2018 Annual Highway Report.

“I receive funding from multiple sources, and the state motor fuel tax is just one piece of that puzzle,” Schwartz said. “It is only a small dent for the highway department.”

Schwartz has identified about

$140 million worth of road projects, including a $113 million overhaul of the county’s highways to bring them up to the state-mandated 80,000 pound weight limit.

State funding currently supports county projects as well, such as the

$1.5 million rebuild of Waterman Road between Waterman and Perry Road. The project should wrap up this year and a little more than half of the funding for the project comes from the state motor fuel tax, according to the highway report.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposal would help in the long run, but Schwartz said the county needs more immediate funding as well.

The county already has explored other funding options. On May 16, the DeKalb County Board approved a resolution to ask the state’s permission to impose an up to 4-cent-a-gallon gas tax, but decided to sit on the resolution to see if the state will increase its motor fuel tax. A county motor fuel tax would bring in up to $1.8 million in addition to the governor’s proposal.

“We want to have the ability to do it in the future, so we’re not left out in the dark if they never want to bring it up again,” County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski said at the meeting. “We have no desire to necessarily act on anything right now.” 

NIU capital funding

Northern Illinois University’s DeKalb campus also could benefit from the spending plan. Under the proposal, NIU would receive some of the

$80 million necessary for the construction of the Health Informatics and Technology Center, a project for which the university has tried for years to secure state money.

The proposal did not specify how much funding the university would receive or construction plans.

The center would provide space and equipment for students in the health-technology field, according to a capital budget request from NIU.

“Ultimately, it is hoped that this building could serve as an anchor for a health and wellness campus on the western side of the university,” NIU spokesman Joe King said in a statement.

Tax increases

Pritzker’s plan seeks to improve on the C grade the American Society of Engineers recently gave Illinois infrastructure. A significant portion of the funding – $1.17 billion a year – will come from increases in the state motor fuel tax, vehicle registration fees and liquor tax.

The rest of the funding is expected to come from bond sales.

“The average taxpayer knows they pay a lot in taxes and expects good roads,” Schwartz said. “The good part about a 19-cent increase is there is a bigger increase to all of those agencies. The average driver can expect more roads to be improved, more potholes to be improved.”

Under the proposal, vehicle registration fees will increase in tiers. Registration fees currently are set at $101, but under the governor’s proposal, annual fees for vehicles that are three years old or newer will be $199, four- to six-year-old vehicles will be $169, 7- to 11-year-old vehicles will be $139, and vehicles 12 and older will be $109.

Electric vehicle registration fees would increase from $34 every other year to $250 annually.

New taxes, such as a $1-a-ride charge for ride-sharing services and a 7% tax on cable, satellite and streaming services will generate $364 million a year, according to the proposal.

Local legislators react

State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, has said the state needs a capital funding bill and said the idea had been neglected for so long because of the two-year budget impasse between Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“I think anyone living in our district now realizes that our roads and bridges are severely beat up,” Keicher said. “Whether we are talking a motor fuel tax or not, the wear and tear on vehicles are being felt every day.”

While he praised putting the tax dollars toward infrastructure, he said other aspects, such as the increase in vehicle registration fees for newer and electric vehicles, are too regressive.

To House Deputy Minority Leader Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, the price tag for the proposal is too high and needs to be reined in.

Legislators are putting together a capital bill of their own, but nothing is concrete, he said.

Demmer’s 90th District includes the western part of DeKalb County.

“Any capital bill that passes will help improve some roads and bridges, but we want to make sure this is a situation where we’re making a wise investment,” Demmer said. “We need to make sure the taxes that are going to be raised are justified by worthwhile, meaningful improvements in Illinois infrastructure.”

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