In his re-election bid, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has sought to convince Illinois taxpayers that electing his Democratic opponent J.B. Pritzker spells trouble for their bottom line.
In a recent campaign ad, the first-term incumbent doubled down on that narrative with several claims about Pritzker’s tax plan.
The 30-second spot features a woman identified as Denise Smith who describes herself as a lifelong Illinoisan who says she may leave Illinois if Pritzker is elected because of his tax policies.
While the ad contains no direct narration from the campaign, it features the following text:
JB PRITZKER’S TAX PLAN
INCOME TAX HIKE
NEW TAX PER MILE YOU DRIVE
WITH GOVERNMENT TRACKING DEVICE
Rauner has long maintained policies Pritzker has said he supports would sock the middle class with an income tax hike. Last winter, we rated that claim Mostly False.
Rauner’s mileage tax hit, on the other hand, is new. But the evidence isn’t in his favor there, either.
Most of the dollars Illinois puts toward road work come from a 19-cent-per-gallon tax drivers pay at the gas pump. But as cars become ever more fuel-efficient, fill-ups get less frequent, and that translates into less money collected by the state to fix roads.
Some states have responded to the spread of hybrid and electric cars by launching experiments that study ways to record and tax miles traveled instead of gallons purchased. Part of the theory behind this is that electric cars, hybrids and other newer vehicles put the same wear and tear on highways as do gas guzzlers, but pay little to nothing for road repairs because their owners buy less fuel.
Last January, during an interview with the Daily Herald editorial board, Pritzker said a vehicle mileage tax was an idea worth testing, but didn’t commit to any wide-scale implementation.
Here’s what he said at the time about a VMT, or vehicle miles traveled tax, according to a video recording of his appearance posted by the newspaper:
"You talked about a gas tax … We're challenged to come up with the dollars that we need for our highway system and for our roads. So in some states, they have done tests recently for a VMT tax ... 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. I guess I'm letting you know that I recognize the challenge that we have in coming up with the dollars for our roads, particularly in that gas tax arena, and that we've got to look for different ways to fund it."
Pritzker said much the same at a Downstate event in August attended by both governor candidates during which Rauner contended the Democrat had in fact proposed a mileage tax.
"What I said is there are tests that have been done on this (tax) and I think we've got to look for how we're going to pay for infrastructure in the state," said Pritzker, according to the Decatur Herald & Review. "It's not anything definitive."
When we reached out to Rauner’s campaign to ask when and where they’d heard Pritzker propose a mileage tax with a government tracking device, spokesman Justin Giorgio did not directly answer.
"Pritzker has expressed support for a test program," Giorgio wrote in an email. "And in every other case, there has been a government tracking device."
Likewise, Rauner chose his words a little more carefully during a debate last week televised on NBC 5. "He was on the record, proposing, saying we all should look at a driving tax," Rauner asserted at one point.
So neither Rauner nor his spokesman now go as far as the campaign’s ad to contend Pritzker has actually proposed a mileage tax as part of his tax plan, let alone put forth a specific method for taxing those miles.
As for Giorgio’s suggestion that all other pilot programs have required a "government tracking device," that is as misleading as it is sinister sounding.
Oregon launched a permanent but voluntary mileage tax program in 2015. Participants, who are reimbursed state fuel tax for paying the mileage tax instead, can choose from multiple options to track their miles including a plug-in device that records mileage but does not track location.
A total of nine states have run or are planning pilot programs to explore the possibility of taxing mileage, although only Oregon has implemented fees so far. Other states have also given participants a variety of choices when it came to recording their miles, including some that involve no tracking device—GPS-enabled or otherwise.
California, for instance, conducted a nine-month study in which participants were allowed to sign up for odometer checks or purchase permits for a set number of days in lieu of more high-tech options.
Rauner’s ad says "Pritzker’s tax plan" includes a "new tax per mile you drive with government tracking device."
But Pritzker hasn’t endorsed any plan as of yet when it comes to measuring and taxing miles driven and Rauner in a televised debate last week appeared to back away from directly claiming otherwise, although his ad is still running.
Pritzker has simply said it’s an idea worth exploring as other states test the concept, given the erosion in collections from the gas tax long relied on to pay for road upkeep. And he has said nothing about a tracking device, which is only one of several options employed in mileage tracking tests conducted in other states.
We rate Rauner’s claim False.