May 24, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Truck fee proposal gives local governments options from the start

Have you ever tried explaining the rules of a sport to a novice?

Lifelong baseball fans can explain the intricacies of the infield fly or uncaught third strike, some even with the 19th-century context. But to a newcomer, it’s absolute gibberish.

The same can be true with government. How a bill becomes a law is one thing, but specific Statehouse procedures are (perhaps intentionally) complex, and that’s before even broaching the topic of how our various taxing bodies extract their resources.

These thoughts surfaced while reading Bob Okon’s Herald-News report about Senate Bill 2784. State Sen. Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, filed the plan to let municipal and county governments impose fees – from 50 cents to $8 – on each loaded semitrailer leaving an intermodal facility. She said the bill could raise $38 million a year for road repairs in the Joliet area.

Merits of the plan aside, contrast it with the ongoing public squabbling over Gov. JB Pritzker’s plan to eliminate the statewide collection of a grocery tax. The state levies and collects the money, then disburses 100% to local governments. The pushback comes from elected officials who want the money but don’t want to be the ones associated with enacting the tax.

Imagine if there had never been a statewide grocery tax. Would someone like Rock Island’s Mike Halpin, another first-term Democratic senator, propose allowing local governments to enact a 1% tax on grocery sales? Backers could say it would raise up to $252 million to fund things like police and fire protection. State lawmakers wouldn’t be creating the tax, only the conditions for local officials to take those steps.

To get back to our sports analogy, the question becomes “Is this the place we would land because it’s the best idea, or is it because we’re only able to adjust to all the layers put in place before today?”

One other thing to appreciate about SB 2784 is how it checks the “scalable solutions” box. As introduced, the plan applied only to trucks leaving yards of at least 3,500 acres, specifically facilities in Joliet and Elwood. Under a proposed amendment, it would apply to smaller facilities around the state.

As Okon noted, the CenterPoint Intermodal Center’s Union Pacific yard in Joliet and BNSF Railway yards in Elwood are the country’s largest inland ports based on the amount of goods loaded off trains onto trucks. But it only makes sense to also give other communities the choice to enact similar fees, albeit possibly smaller.

The local control first approach isn’t standard procedure in Illinois. How different might things look had we been operating under that framework for the last 206 years? There’s no definitive answer, but considering the question might be beneficial.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on X @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.