BY AMANDA SEITZ
CHICAGO (AP) — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign has hit the Illinois airwaves with a new claim that Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker wants to tax drivers for the mileage they log by using a tracking device.
It’s the latest in a string of Rauner ads that accuse Pritzker of harboring plans to raise taxes. The candidates are wealthy businessmen who are locked in an expensive spending campaign; Rauner has put $50 million of his own cash into the race this cycle while Pritzker has poured in $100 million of his money.
In this new Rauner campaign ad, launched last week, an Illinois resident named Denise Smith tells viewers she might have to move out of the state if Pritzker raises her taxes.
A look at the claim:
RAUNER CAMPAIGN AD: “Worse yet he wants a car tax, which will also come along with a tracking device. How much is that going to cost us just to drive to a family member’s house?”
THE FACTS: Pritzker said he wants to test a new tax for drivers, commonly known as a vehicle mileage tax, but did not go as far as to say he would make it state law. Furthermore, while some states use GPS devices to collect mileage tax, drivers can use other methods to track mileage.
Pritzker suggested during a January editorial board meeting at the Daily Herald, a newspaper in suburban Chicago, that he wants to test a new vehicle mileage tax program, according to a video recording of the event.
“In some states, they have done tests recently for VMT (vehicle mileage tax),” Pritzker said during the interview on Jan. 11 . “I think it’s something we should look at, we have to be careful how it’s implemented and that’s why it should only be a test at this point.”
As vehicles become more fuel efficient, states are collecting less money from gas taxes. That’s a problem for many states including Illinois that rely on gas taxes to build or fix roads. Motor fuel tax collections vary from year to year in Illinois but have overall stayed stagnant, when inflation is included, during the last 20 years. The state typically collects between $1.2 and $1.3 billion annually.
To make up for the decline, some states are testing ways to collect tax on the number of miles driven, instead of the amount of fuel pumped into their cars.
In Oregon — a state Pritzker cited as a model for Illinois during an August forum — lawmakers launched a mileage tax pilot program in in 2015. Drivers must volunteer to be in the program, and so far roughly 1,200 have signed up, according to Michelle Godfrey, a spokeswoman for the program. Drivers pay 1.7 cents for every mile they drive.
Volunteers select and purchase the device from a private vendor, which collects data on the number of miles the car travels and the gallons of gas it consumes. Participants are reimbursed state fuel tax— 34 cents a gallon— for paying the mileage tax.
The program also allows volunteers to pick the devices they purchase. Volunteers can choose from GPS devices or devices without GPS that report the car’s odometer readings.
“That’s actually part of the law, that there be at least one choice that not require use of GPS,” Godfrey said.
Will drivers pay more with a mileage tax, as the ad also claims? That depends on the mileage tax rate and the car you drive.
In Oregon, people who drive bigger gas guzzlers actually pay less tax through the program. Since those cars take in more gallons of gas, and therefore pay higher gas taxes, the state ends up reimbursing those drivers more. Drivers enrolled in the program with more fuel efficient cars end up paying more in mileage tax than gas tax. Godfrey acknowledged that contradicts how some might think the program should work to benefit the environment but said the state is testing a fuel mileage tax to find funding solutions as vehicles consume less fuel.
“Most of the people pay a little bit— if not a lot bit— for participating in the program,” Godfrey said.
For example, a driver with a car that averages 30 MPG and travels 1,000 miles every month would pay nearly $70 more a year under a vehicle mileage tax plan compared to a gas tax, according to the state’s calculator .
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