Tuesday, April 12, 2016 || Originally Published: Cook County Chronicle || By Kevin Beese
A 4-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike is being proposed in Cook County to generate funds to stem the violence that is gripping the Chicago area.
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, (pictured), has initiated the proposal, which would add at least 15 sheriff’s deputies to target crime-ridden areas. The lion’s share of the tax increase would go to a youth jobs initiative that would create employment opportunities for young adults in an effort to get them off the streets.
The proposed tax increase, which would go into effect in June, would cost the average driver in Cook County $28 more per year. The county has not raised its gas tax since 2011.
Boykin said he understands no one likes paying more in taxes, but that something has to be done to change what is happening on city and suburban streets.
“If we don’t do anything, I am afraid violence is going to take the county budget under,” Boykin told the Cook County Chronicle. “Taxpayers are paying millions for our health system, for our public safety system. Last year, Stroger Hospital treated an unprecedented number of youths for gunshot wounds.
“We have to do everything we can to get our arms around this. We need jobs for youths. We need overall coordination of violence prevention. Our communities have become virtually shooting galleries, war zones. Residents are suffering from acts of terrorism, with shootings in their neighborhood on a constant basis.
“I talked to one homeowner who wanted to sell his home. He told me a Realtor said no one was willing to buy a home in that area because of the violence. Homeowners’ property values are going down. Businesses are not making investments. The West Side of Chicago has seen little to no business investment in 50 years.”
The gas tax hike would generate an estimated $50 million annually, which would be allocated with:
- $45 million for a jobs council to generate employment opportunities for youth by providing grants to organizations creating jobs for young adults.
- $2 million for programs to help single parents and grandparents raise children.
- $2 million to add at least 15 sheriff’s deputies who would specifically be used in high crime areas
- $1 million to create an advocacy office for the disabled in suburban Cook County, like the one that already exists in Chicago.
Commissioner Boykin said with gas prices lower than they have been in years and prices expected to stay low for the foreseeable future, the gas tax hike would be instituted and not have a huge impact on most motorists. He noted there is a provision in the legislation that ends the special gas tax hike when the average cost of fuel in the county reaches $5 per gallon.
Boykin said the gas tax hike has to be done to stabilize communities.
“Children are afraid to go outside. They have to take different routes to school to not cross gang borders,” Boykin said. “My God! This is America, not Iraq.”
Boykin said some motorists in border communities may head over the state line or county line to get their fuel because of the tax hike, but noted that it is already happening.
“There are people who already go to Indiana or DuPage (County) to buy their gas,” Boykin said. “Some other municipalities are also hiking their gas tax. Aurora has proposed a hike. There are other municipalities too … The Metropolitan Planning Council wants a 30-cent increase. We only want a 4-cent increase. We need help because they can’t get things done in Springfield.”
Boykin said people should look at the situation and say that because their community is safe, they should have not to pay more in county gas taxes.
“What happens in Austin affects Oak Park. What happens in Oak Park affects Forest Park,” the county commissioner said. “Every detainee at Cook County Jail costs $143 a day. People are paying millions for our criminal court system. We are asking people for $28 a year more to help us do battle. It is a minimum investment with a maximum return.”
The county’s current gas tax is 6 cents per gallon.
The proposed gas-tax-hike legislation will be introduced at the April 13 County Board meeting. VFP