Lawmakers consider lowering trailer license fee
Stakeholders say they are committed to bipartisan solution
By GRACE BARBIC
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – In 2019, the fee for licensing a small trailer in Illinois jumped from $18 to $118. Lawmakers are now looking for a solution to lower that fee without causing major drops in infrastructure funding.
The $100 fee increase was included in Gov. JB Pritzker’s 2019 Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure plan, which funds road, bridge and building projects throughout the state. A House Revenue and Finance Committee on Thursday discussed what steps could be taken to lower the fee amid a bipartisan push to do so.
House Bill 36, sponsored by Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, would lower the small trailer fee back to $18. The committee discussed but did not vote on the matter Thursday.
“I’ve been talking to constituents and folks, getting emails and phone calls about how the massive increase has really hurt some small businesses and local drivers,” Stuart said.
She said a lot of residents use their trailers “maybe two or three times a year when they’re doing yard work cleanup or to move a boat out of storage,” and “they feel that the fee really is out of line with how much use people get out of their trailer.”
She said she expected the state to “continue to see the revenues from this fee decline as people decline to register their trailer.” Stuart noted that according to the secretary of state, Illinois had 150,000 fewer trailer license applicants in 2020 compared to the previous year.
“There’s been allegations that the fee increase was done by mistake, regardless of what the intention was that $118 is really just not a reasonable fee on people and on small businesses,” Stuart said. “I think this is something we can fix, I’m hoping that we can come together in a bipartisan way, get the feedback to something that is more appropriate.”
House Bill 636, sponsored by Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, is a similar bill that has enough cosponsors to pass with a simple bipartisan majority, but it’s been blocked in committee.
But the Transportation for Illinois Coalition – a group of statewide and regional business, organized labor, industry, governmental and nonprofit organizations which lobbied for the capital bill’s passage in 2019 – warned that lowering the fees would take revenue away from state construction and infrastructure projects.
Kevin Burke, executive vice president of the Asphalt Pavement Association and co-chair for the coalition, testified against the bill. He said the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the revenue sources that are used to fund Rebuild Illinois, and decreasing the fee would impose revenue challenges for construction projects included in the capital plan.
For example, he noted motor fuel usage saw a 30-40 percent decline from April to June of 2020. Although the usage has since recovered, Burke said it is still about 10 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels. Taxes on motor fuel are one of the major contributors to revenue needed to fund Rebuild Illinois projects.
Burke said ensuring that these projects are funded is critical to the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic as the projects would create thousands of jobs and support Illinois’ critical highway infrastructure.
Burke said the coalition would support reducing the small trailer fee as long as the lost revenue is replaced by other user fees protected by the Safe Roads Constitutional Amendment, a measure passed by voters in 2016 to prohibit the state legislature from using transportation funds for non-transportation related projects.
“If the existing small trailer fee of $118 was reduced to $36, the certificate of title fee could be raised by $5 to ensure the needed revenue is available for Rebuild Illinois,” Burke said. “The certificate of title fee is only paid when titles are transferred for registered vehicles.”
In an unrelated news conference on Thursday, Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, who chairs the House Revenue and Finance Committee, said he is committed to working with his Republican colleagues, who have been strong advocates for lowering the fee.
“We’ve asked stakeholders to come up with a matrix of fee increases that make up the revenue while still not hitting our constituents in the pockets overly hard,” Zalewski said. “It sounds like they’ve come up with some reasonable approaches like the certification of the title.”
Zalewski said he is hopeful this is something that will be accomplished before the May 31 session deadline.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
FILE PHOTO: State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, and Gov. JB Pritzker.