ILLINOIS (WCIA) — An attack ad about a tax on your odometer and government tracking devices in your car is fueling a new controversy in the race for governor.
The first debate between Democrat J.B. Pritzker and Republican Governor Rauner isn’t for another two weeks yet, but the two wealthy candidates are already fighting on the airwaves and through press statements over how to best raise money for badly needed road repairs in a state suffering from crumbling infrastructure.
For decades, Illinois has collected a motor fuel tax at the gas pump. Most people hardly even notice the expense, since the tax amount doesn’t usually appear on the pump’s digital screens. But as more Americans buy electric cars or turn to alternative fuels, that tax stream is starting to dry up. So instead of taxing by the gallon, some states are looking for ways to tax by the mile.
Pritzker floated an idea months ago to explore a Vehicle Mileage Tax (or VMT) during a newspaper editorial board interview.
“They have done tests recently for a VMT tax because we have more and more electric cars on the road, more and more hybrids, and because gas mileage is rising,” Pritzker told the Daily Herald in January.
Now the governor’s campaign is taking Pritzker’s statements a step further, hammering him in an ominous attack ad.
“J.B. Pritzker wants to raise our income taxes, but worse yet, he wants a car tax that will also come with a tracking device,” a woman reads in the ad, which is running on television statewide.
In a statement, Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh responded, “This is yet another lie from a desperate, failed governor. JB never proposed a vehicle mileage tax.”
“He’s absolutely said it. He proposed it,” Rauner insisted during a campaign stop in Springfield on Wednesday.
“He said, ‘what we ought to do is impose a mileage tax.’ The way they do that is to install a box in everybody’s car. That’s the technology,” Rauner said.
There is no record of Pritzker ever saying publicly that he would support a tracking device, but every state that has tested it out has incorporated some form of GPS monitoring, even if only in voluntary testing phases.
At least 12 states are considering enacting some form of a vehicle mileage tax. In California, they started installing digital smart license plates, complete with a tracking device. In Vermont, state officials said the technology would soon be standard nationwide. In Oregon, the state Department of Transportation gives people a range of choices to transmit their travel data to the state through third party contractors.
“The Democrats have been pushing this for awhile,” Rauner said. “Pritzker came out and said, ‘Let’s tax everybody by the miles they drive, let’s put a box in people’s car, track how many miles when they drive to work, drive to school, they go to the grocery store, lets track their mileage and then tax them per mile.'”
Civil liberties advocates warn against implementing government tracking systems, arguing that it violates personal privacy rights. Six years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that monitoring people’s movement with GPS technology without a warrant violates the rights guaranteed in the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
In his initial comments to the Daily Herald, Pritzker, whose venture capital firm routinely invests in big data and technology companies, appeared aware of those concerns.
“We have to be careful how it gets implemented and that’s why it should only be a test at this point,” he said at the time.
His opponent refused to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Pritzker proposed it. He said he wants us to go into it,” Rauner said. “That is big government. Big taxing. What we don’t need is more taxes on the people of illinois. When folks are driving to work, when they’re driving to their farm, they shouldn’t be taxed for that.”
In a phone call, Pritzker’s campaign team says he never officially proposed the idea or posted it on his website, however, he did say he was open to some form of the VMT.
“It’s only fair if you’re on a road and traveling on that road that you should pay your fair share,” Pritzker told the Daily Herald.
After taking heat from Rauner’s ads, Pritzker’s campaign said that “any proposal to pay for infrastructure updates should be studied with stakeholders across the state and should work for working families.”