Illinois Governor JB Pritzker gets it. President Joe Biden understands. California Governor Gavin Newsom understands.
Officials across the country understand how Americans are grappling with record inflation and gasoline prices. They’ve suspended gas taxes, offered to stop them for a while, or plan to give gas discounts to drivers, like in California, where gas prices are the highest in the country, at more $6 a gallon.
These actions may not accomplish much for our dwindling wallets, but many politicians are at least doing something. Except the Lake County Board.
Motorists may recall that last spring, the county board’s Democratic majority voted along party lines to approve a 4-cent-a-gallon gas tax. This was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when gasoline prices were in the $3 per gallon range.
Some Democrats have argued the county should impose an 8-cent-a-gallon tax hike to fund nearly $2 billion in highway projects and infrastructure improvements. Fast forward to 2022, and the cost of gas has nearly doubled in a year and the county gas tax remains, driving up the cost of fuel.
Pritzker, seeking re-election in November, decided to suspend not only the state’s share of the gas tax – 18.4 cents per gallon – earlier this year, but also the 1% sales tax. on groceries starting July 1. The food sales tax suspension lasts until June 30, 2023, a bonus the governor says will save Illinois taxpayers up to $400 million.
Still, the Lake County Board is holding firm on its 4-cent-a-gallon tax hike. While gas prices are falling slightly, it costs average drivers in the county nearly $75 to fill up their fossil-fuel vehicles when gas is at $5.50 a gallon.
With inflation at its highest level in 40 years – the consumer price index, a key gauge of inflation, rose 8.6% in May – workers at all income levels have more struggling to make ends meet. Many are back to living paycheck like they did during the pandemic, only this time without the federal government depositing free money into their checking accounts.
Housing, fuel and food costs are rising. Salaries do not keep pace with inflation or rising interest rates on monthly credit card balances.
Such economic uncertainty most directly affects lower-income and middle-class Lake Countians. That’s why many Democratic leaders across the country prefer to help a constituency they’ve long cultivated by proclaiming gas tax exemptions.
Earlier this month, President Biden proposed suspending the federal tax of 18 cents on every gallon of gasoline and 24 cents on every gallon of diesel for three months. The administration also called on states to suspend their gasoline taxes.
Biden’s proposal to “give working families a break” has gained little traction in Congress. Unlike Governor Pritzker, Lake County council members have so far ignored the president’s request to cut gasoline taxes.
Federal and state taxes make up 16% of the price at the pump, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Taxes are only part of the supply and demand price of gasoline, but they currently exceed the cost of refining barrels of oil into fuel, which is 15% of a gallon. gasoline, according to the federal agency.
The suspension of gasoline taxes will not be a major boon for motorists. Some argue that the suspension of gasoline taxes is a costly gift, helps oil companies dodge responsibility, and contributes to climate change. Finally, these income deductions will have to be offset once the tax holidays are over.
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Yet acting on the gas tax suspension shows that officials can empathize with those who elect them. So far this has not been the case in Lake County.
During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt took unprecedented steps — some of which were later ruled unconstitutional by the then-ruling Supreme Court — to help pull America out of economic chaos and widespread unemployment. His decisions gave Americans hope and a positive outlook for the future.
One such decision in 1934 was to reduce the gas tax by half a cent. Lake County Council members could do the same as more of us hit the county’s highways this summer or commute to work.
Or head to Wisconsin for cheaper gas prices and taxes.
Charles Selle is a former News-Sun journalist, political editor and editor.