Incoming governor J.B. Pritzker was slippery on the campaign trail as he discussed taxes.
One of those discussions was magnified in a Bruce Rauner television attack ad. The ad's claim was Pritzker was going to implement a “new tax per mile you drive with government tracking device.”
In a January meeting with the Daily Herald editorial board, Pritzker discussed a vehicle mileage tax, saying, “It’s only fair if you’re on a road and traveling on that road that you should pay your fair share on the road like everybody else is paying. So I think it’s something we should look at. We have to be careful about how it gets implemented, and that’s why it should only be a test at this point.”
That's a long way from the panic button assertion that Pritzker wanted Big Brother to be a co-pilot in a driver's hybrid vehicle.
Illinois is one of 30 states that do not charge owners of electric and hybrid cars an annual fee to make up for lost motor fuel taxes. The theoretical reason for charging electric and hybrid owners a fee is to make up for taxes not being paid on fuel. Those cars still use the roads, and should be helping to pay for them, as all drivers do.
California has adopted a plan with fees, and also increased its gas tax by 12 cents per gallon last year.
As much as we oppose more taxes and additional bureaucracy, this change is one that at least increases driver equity.
Some states have implemented voluntary plans for electric and hybrid car drivers to track their distances driven. The drivers are calmed by promises that the tracking devices are only measuring mileage and will not or cannot be used as global positioning devices.
But the ship has long sailed on that fear. Some drivers pay for Onstar or similar communication services, not only willingly sharing their location but counting on their location being known. Illinois drivers who have I-PASS on their cars are letting their location be known every time they use open road tolling, both here and in the other states around the country who allow I-PASS.
As always, our concerns about privacy directly conflict with the lifestyle most of us have chosen. Do you use a computer? Your location can be tracked, along with all the sites you visit. (A situation comedy punchline for our lives is, “My wife hasn't been this made at me since she looked at my web browsing history.”)
The final blow comes via that small item we carry with us wherever we go, the item which is the first thing we look at in the morning and the last thing we look at before bed. We voluntarily allow many smartphone apps to track our location. Who knows how many others are tracking us without our knowledge or permission?
As unpalatable as it is to agree to a new tax and to allowing our privacy to be violated in some fashion, if implemented properly, a hybrid and electric car use tax would be helpful to Illinois roads. Last week, a panel of transportation experts discussed the billions of dollars in delayed maintenance that must be spent to repair Illinois roads, to the point of suggesting a 15-cent increase in the state's gasoline tax.
Sharing that burden is the right thing to do.