Former U.S. Transportation Secretary joins call for Illinois gas tax hike

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary joins call for Illinois gas tax hike

ILLINOIS (IRN) —- Former Republican congressman and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday that Illinois lawmakers need to hike the state’s motor fuel tax, but they’ll also need to convince some residents that they will spend the new revenue wisely.

LaHood represented Peoria in Congress and later served as President Barack Obama’s secretary of transportation. He spoke to a panel of state lawmakers Monday in Chicago about capital infrastructure spending.

“Illinois is one big pothole right now,” he said. “If the General Assembly raised the gas tax and fixed up the roads and bridges, people would be very happy.”

While the state needs to raise the gas tax, LaHood said he worried that lawmakers would have to convince Illinois residents who already shoulder one of the nation’s highest motor fuel taxes to trust them with spending the new revenue responsibly.

“The money has to be spent on roads and bridges. You can’t defer this money to pay for state police salaries or to pay for other things related to road safety or whatever,” he said.

Illinois voters amended the state constitution to ensure that funds collected for infrastructure would only be spent for that purpose. Even with the transportation “lockbox amendment,” others at the hearing said some residents aren’t convinced the new revenue will be spent as promised.

The last time state lawmakers passed a capital infrastructure bill was under former Gov. Pat Quinn. It contained hundreds of millions of dollars in “member initiatives” that some criticized as pork-barrel spending projects.

Some state lawmakers and others have said Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration could use a capital bill to sway key lawmakers to back the governor’s proposed graduated income tax amendment to the Illinois Constitution. The hearing Monday in Chicago was the sixth hearing on capital needs in the state.

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