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Lowest in 2 years

Consumers, highway officials talk gas prices, potential state tax increases

Ellen Crosby, from Maple Park, pumps gas into her truck under the watchful eye of her dog Finn Tuesday at the Hy-Vee in Sycamore.
Ellen Crosby, from Maple Park, pumps gas into her truck under the watchful eye of her dog Finn Tuesday at the Hy-Vee in Sycamore.

Ellen Crosby of Maple Park was filling up her Chevrolet Silverado with her dog Finn in tow at the HyVee gas station when she was talking about gas prices in the state.

She said she works in Arlington Heights and puts a lot of miles on her truck that he got last May, so she tries to save money on gas wherever she can – this time, it's getting 68 cents a gallon off of the current $2.09 as a HyVee fuel saver, she said.

Crosby said she has lived in her home for nearly 30 years and has plans to leave the state after her retirement. She said she will not be able to retire in Illinois with the way taxes are, and a hike in the state's 19-cent-a-gallon motor fuel tax would be the last straw for her.

"It's going to hasten my departure from this state," Crosby said.

Crosby's concerns surface as Illinois lawmakers are considering a potential motor fuel tax increase ahead of Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker's Jan. 14 inauguration. Elected officials from larger Illinois cities have said they want to see a 20- to 30-cent increase in the state's motor fuel tax to pay for a road building and maintenance program.

Illinois' motor fuel tax hasn't changed since the early 1990s. Other gas taxes include a flat 18.4-cent per gallon federal tax rate and the state's 6.25 percent sales tax rate.

Gas prices within the United States, which on Tuesday averaged at $2.23 a gallon according to AAA, are the lowest they've been in the past two years, Patrick DeHaan, petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, said. He said 44 percent of the country's stations are selling regular unleaded for less than $2 a gallon and almost 70 percent are less than $2.25 per gallon.

DeHaan said crude oil prices have tumbled from $76 a barrel in October to between $42 and $48 a barrel now. He said there's been a large decrease in national average gas prices within the last few months.

"It's pretty close to an 80-cent decline since October," DeHaan said.

While federal, state and even municipal taxes affect gas prices, DeHaan said the biggest influence is competition among nearby gas stations. He said other factors include the looming trade war with China and the Federal Reserve raising interest rates.

"So all three of those issues kind of conspire together," DeHaan said.

The average price of gas in Illinois was $2.112 for a gallon of regular unleaded as of Tuesday, according to AAA.

The average prices in DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties were $2.10, $2.10 and $2.11 a gallon on Tuesday, respectively. All three counties also have a 4-cent county motor fuel tax, which required special authorization from the state legislature, Nathan Schwartz, county engineer for the DeKalb County Highway Department, said.

Cook County charges a 6-cent-a-gallon gas tax because they are home rule, Schwartz said. The average price in Cook County was $2.318 a gallon on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, the average gas prices in Lee and La Salle counties was $2.05 and $1.96, respectively.

The average price in DeKalb County is $2.09 a gallon, according to AAA. In Will and Kendall counties, the average gas price is $2.078 and $2.026, respectively.

Schwartz said a county fuel tax similar to Kane, DuPage and McHenry's could generate about $1.8 million a year for DeKalb County and the money would stay within the county.

"That would greatly benefit our county highway system," Schwartz said. "With the way the economy is right now, I'm not holding my breath."

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