Illinois Fuel and Retail Association moves forward with lawsuit over fuel tax sticker requirement

The Illinois Fuel & Retail Association plans to sue the state of Illinois over a requirement...
The Illinois Fuel & Retail Association plans to sue the state of Illinois over a requirement that gas stations promote a six-month suspension of the gas tax.(Mike Miletich)
Published: May. 20, 2022 at 6:39 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Illinois residents will see a temporary suspension in the motor fuel tax increase this summer, but fuel retailers are concerned about the fine they may face if they don’t post a sticker crediting the suspension to the Illinois General Assembly.

The Illinois Fuel and Retail Association filed a suit Thursday against the Illinois Department of Revenue calling the sticker requirement “compulsory” speech that violates their First Amendment rights.

The law requires retailers post a sticker in a “prominently visible” place, at least four by eight inches in size and says the following: “As of July 1, 2022, the State of Illinois has suspended the inflation adjustment to the motor fuel tax through Dec. 31, 2022. The price on this pump should reflect the suspension of the tax increase.”

If the sticker isn’t posted, retailers face a potential fine of $500 per day.

The suit calls the requirement “undoubtedly political,” citing ads and statements made my lawmakers about the suspension. They’re calling on the 7th Circuit Court of Illinois to find the enforcement unconstitutional and not require the fine.

“I think what bothers (fuel retailers) the most is that they’re being sort of turned into a conductor or a conveyor of speech for the state of Illinois,” CEO of the Illinois fuel and Retail Association Josh Sharp said. “They just view that as a real intrusion into their rights.”

They argue it would costs retailers too much money for choosing not to display the sticker. Two fuel companies cited in the suit would face hefty costs for not posting the sticker.

Saunder’s Oil Co. said without posting the sticker every day of the required amount of time, they argued they’d accrue $91,500 in fees between July 1 and Dec. 31. Another company, Freedom Oil Co. which has 23 stations throughout Central Illinois, would accrue over $2 million in fines from all of their stations.

Those companies say their reason for not posting is because they don’t have “any desire” to post the sign.

Legal precedent shows a similar requirement in 2000 where retailers had to post a sticker for a 5% suspension on the motor fuel tax. The IFRA didn’t take that 2000 measure to court. Sharp was not a part of the organization at that time, but he said the association didn’t feel as violated by it because it was a gubernatorial election year.

However, there is a similar signage requirement for grocery stores to display a sign on cash registers or on the receipt that states the grocery tax is suspended for one year. There is no fine for not displaying that message. As to why groceries stores do not face fines and gas stations do, sharp guesses that there is more political motivation to emphasize the gas tax suspension.

A court summons is set for next month where both parties will meet to see what the next steps are. The law goes into effect July 1.

If the courts side with the state, the IFRA said they’ll abide by the law. however, Sharp said there may additional signs put up telling consumers more context about the tax suspension and Illinois’ motor fuel tax.

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