BELLEVILLE, Ill —
Politicians can be extra sensitive to voter discomfort in election years, and the signs of that discontent are starting to show up at gas stations.
“Yeah, yeah, I saw that sticker," Uber driver Andy Kim said as he stopped at a gas station on Tuesday morning.
The sticker he referenced pretends to quote President Biden with an image that shows him pointing at the price of gas alongside the caption, "I did that."
“Oh, [they're] all over the place," Ramon Garcia said.
Moments later, Garcia's pump cut off with a sudden click. He had reached his card's limit of $100 per transaction.
"It's probably not even full," he said about his truck's gas tank. "We definitely need a change."
While some drivers do blame the president's policies for the rising cost of gas, others give him a pass.
“I think it’s OPEC," Willie Gibson from Belleville said. "I think it’s got something to do with the war that’s going on.”
"I don't blame anyone," Kim said. “I think we’re just going through a transition with hybrid and electric cars and fossil fuels and all that. I think everyone has to sacrifice and pay their dues until we get this figured out.”
As some dissatisfied drivers pin the blame for their pain at the pump on President Biden, Illinois politicians want credit for pressing pause on a gas tax hike that was scheduled to take place in July.
The state's motor fuel tax, which is separate from the state's sales tax on gasoline, was scheduled to rise from $0.392 cents per gallon to more than $0.41 cents. Illinois doubled the motor fuel tax from $0.19 cents per gallon to $0.38 cents per gallon in 2019, but also tied all future gas tax increases to inflation, locking in a gradual increase to bolster the state's fund that pays for road and transportation expenses.
The new Illinois law that temporarily suspends that automatic tax increase will soon require gas stations to plaster a sticker on their pumps, telling drivers Illinois spared them the extra expense.
5 On Your Side spoke with customers filling up their tanks at a Belleville gas station.
“It’s a lot of politics involved," Garcia said.
Gas stations are warning drivers not to consider it a tax cut.
“They won’t pay any less at all," Josh Sharp, Illinois Fuel and Retailers Association said. “Only thing Illinois is doing is delaying a gas tax increase until January and calling that a tax cut.”
“It’s very small compared to the increases people have seen in the price of gasoline," MotoMart owner Rob Forsyth said in a phone call. “In this case, what a horrible precedent. And how ridiculous that the increase that they’re not making is infinitesimal compared to the taxes in Illinois. They’re saying, ‘Yay for us. We’re giving you a penny right after we took a pound.’ It’s just terrible.”
Sharp represents gas stations like Forsyth's all over the state. Many of them see the new sticker mandate as political speech in an election year.
“There is, of course, an election, which, I think, is what this whole gas sticker and this entire issue is about," Sharp said.
Any gas station caught without the sign clearly visible to customers could face a fine of $500 per day, according to the bill Governor Pritzker signed into law. His office could not say which state agency would be responsible for inspecting the signage or assessing fines.
"We’re working through all the logistics right now but can’t really say any more with pending litigation," Pritzker's spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email.
Pritzker's re-election campaign has highlighted the policy in his political ads, a fact the gas stations noted in their lawsuit to block the mandate.
“If the Governor would like to go out and buy campaign ads about this delay in the tax increase, he’s free to do so," Sharp said. "So is every other elected official in the state. But we don’t want to be compelled under the force of law. Again, you’re talking about huge fines. You’re talking about criminal offenses. We don’t think it’s right and that’s why we’re in court.”
“It’s political speech," Forsyth said. "The freedom of speech is not just that you can say what you want with a few limits, but also that you’re not forced to say what other people want you to say.”
“It’s so stupid on their part," he continued. "I just don’t get it. It’s all a game of politics and they’ve trudged over the constitution just to pursue their political interests.”
Consumers would save roughly two and a half cents per gallon over the next six months.
“That don’t sound like too much," Gibson said.
People who drive for a living said they'll take any relief they can get, even if it's temporary.
“Oh, it’d be a lot," Kim said. "I’m an Uber driver. It means a lot. I fill up every day.”
Many gas station owners plan to follow the law and post the stickers on the pumps, even though they’re challenging it in court as compelled speech that is “undoubtedly political.”
If they lose their lawsuit over the state-regulated stickers, Sharp suggested some gas station store owners may soon post other signs right next to it.
“You ought to see some of the signs that I think we’re working on now that, if we have to do this, will talk about more than just the mandated language," he said.