Illinois gas stations cleverly resisting being forced to propagandize for state's temporary suspension of tax hike
A law passed by the state Legislature and signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker will force gas stations there to campaign for the governor, in essence, by touting a six-month delay in a scheduled tax hike. Gasoline retailers by law must post signs reading:
As of July 1, 2022, the State of Illinois has suspended the inflation adjustment to the motor fuel tax through December 31, 2022. The price on this pump should reflect the suspension of the tax increase.
The industry's trade association, the Illinois Fuel and Retail Association (IFRA), is fighting in court against the compulsory political speech. But the group has come up with an even better plan should the court challenge fail. A press release from IFRA dated June 21, 2022 reads:
Springfield, IL — Should the courts side with the state and force gas stations to post signs about the temporary gas tax relief approved in April, Josh Sharp, CEO of the IL Fuel and Retail Association, says the industry will make sure drivers know the whole truth about gas taxes in Illinois.
"We will follow the law and post the signs if the courts require us to do so," Sharp said. "But we are going to make sure our customers understand the whole story about our state's gas tax not just the part some of the lawmakers in Springfield want to talk about."
The Legislature is mandating fuel retailers to post signs at their own expense to tell people about the six-month suspension of the CPI tax increase scheduled for July 1st of this year. The Illinois Fuel and Retail Association is challenging the posting requirement in court.
IFRA's lawsuit complaint reads in part: "This specific amendment to the Motor Fuel Tax Law requires Plaintiffs and other retailers to choose between making a political statement they do not wish to make to their customers or the general public on behalf of the State of Illinois or facing criminal penalties. SB 157 violates Plaintiffs' Free Speech rights as protected by Article 1, Section 4 of the Illinois Constitution, and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution by compelling political speech."
If the courts ultimately rule in favor of the state, IFRA will provide member gas stations with signs to post. The proposed sign the Illinois Fuel and Retail Association will display reminds motorists that "Illinois politicians have more than doubled the gas tax since 2019." It also states lawmakers "have decided to delay their tax hike until after the election," and informs the public the signs have to be posted to avoid a $500 per day fine. The signage tells drivers the truth about Illinois gas taxes — and directs them to use the Illinois Policy Institute's gas tax calculator to see the true cost of taxes at the pump.
"Lawmakers want us to tell the public an edited version of the history of the gas tax in Illinois," Sharp said. "If they insist on us posting signs and the courts agree requiring private businesses to post these notices at their expense is Constitutional, we will comply, but we are going to tell the whole truth about gas taxes in Illinois. Here is the truth; delaying a tax increase does not equal a tax cut, and there are now TWO gas tax increases scheduled for 2023."
A copy of the proposed signage is below:
According to the Illinois Policy Institute:
Signs include the legally required language along with a gas tax calculator developed by the Illinois Policy Institute. A QR code opens a calculator to show motorists how much of their gas money goes to taxes.
Note that the tax hike is only postponed (not canceled) until after the election, which means that in 2023, there will be two tax hikes facing motorists in the Land of Lincoln:
I don't like the idea of required political speech. But I also think the remedy to speech one doesn't like is more speech. Good for the IFRA for fighting this battle and coming up with a countermeasure that wins the war, even if the court battle is lost.
Hat tip: Peter von Buol.