SPECIAL REPORT: Angry truckers to meet tonight to oppose new fees in Illinois; bill introduced to repeal increase

| 10/22/2003

Truckers and legislators in Illinois are mulling action after the state levied thousands of dollars in fee and tax increases on the state’s truck owners.

The Hispanic Alliance of Illinois, which is organizing the meetings, has called on independent truck drivers and owners to gather at 7 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, Oct. 22, at the Concordia Theatre, which is located at 6134 Cermak in Cicero, IL.

The meeting is being held in reaction to the passage earlier this year of Senate Bill 841. The measure added 36 percent to the registration fee for trucks who run in Illinois. For trucks that run all of their miles in the state, last year’s fee of $2,790 was increased $1,005 to a new total of $3,795.

In addition, the bill repealed the rolling stock exemption for many trucks based in the state. Trucks that run at least 51 percent of their miles outside of Illinois are still free of the tax, but those that run most of the miles in Illinois must now pay the levy, which is essentially a sales tax on the purchase of truck equipment. For some truckers, the bill could run in the thousands.

Trucks that run in-state are being hit with the full force of both fees.

Other meetings have already started to spring up over the issue in the Chicago area. Last week, a group of owner-operators and small carriers met in the Chicago suburb of Aurora to protest the fees.

While truckers prepared to meet to discuss their options in the battle against the fee increase, their cause was being carried in the General Assembly. According to The Springfield News-Gazette, on Monday, State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, introduced House Bill 3851 to repeal the fee.

"This is an issue of survival for our small, family-owned trucking companies," Rose told The News-Gazette.

State Rep. Frank Aguilar, R-Cicero, said he planned to be at the meeting in his community. Aguilar also said he would probably co-sponsor HB3851.

“This is absolutely outrageous,” he said. “I voted against it.”

Patrick Leonardi attended the Aurora meeting and is planning to attend the event in Cicero. A former owner-operator, Leonardi now works as the safety director in Bensenville, IL, another Chicago suburb, at Central States Trucking, which contracts with about 100 owner-operators.

He said those organizing and attending the meetings are looking for ways to get the fee and tax increases turned back.

“They’re discussing legal actions, they’re discussing protest actions,” he said. Those could include lawsuits, a legislative effort and several possible protests.

Frustration over the new fees boiled over around Oct. 1, when thousands of truckers in the state were notified by mail that they had to pay the increase in the registration fee to keep the plates they already paid for this year. The notice was sent to in-state truckers; those who have IRP plates are scheduled to pay the new fee when their registration renews in April.

The mailed notices said if the fees were not paid by Nov. 1, truckers would face a penalty, and possibly lose their plates.

An e-mail announcing the meeting in Cicero expressed the frustration many truckers in the state say they have felt over the fees.

“The license plate and fee cost of starting up a new tractor in Illinois is now over $4200,” the e-mail said.

Since the notices started arriving in truckers’ mailboxes, a number of individual truckers and trucking companies have indicated they have plans to move out of the state.

Leonardi called the movement of truckers and trucking firms out of state “one of the biggest implications” of the new law.

“What’s going to happen at plate renewals next year, they’re threatening to move because they just can’t afford to do business here,” he said. “Some of my competitors … 80 percent of their fleet is base plated in Illinois.”

Leonardi said about 250 people were at the meeting in Aurora last week. More would have likely shown, he said, “if it weren’t the last game for the Cubs” on the same night.

“They’re hoping for a much larger turnout at the theater” in Cicero, Leonardi said.

Leonardi said the same group organizing the Cicero meeting set up the Aurora event. Several legislators were invited, and at least one, state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, did attend. In addition, the truckers have started circulating a petition, and already have between 400 and 500 signatures.

The second meeting will take place at 7 p.m. today (Wednesday, Oct. 22) at the Concordia Theatre in the Chicago suburb of Cicero. The theatre (capacity 1,500) is located at 6134 Cermak. There's no truck parking available, but plenty of car parking is available in back of the theatre.

Cermak is between Interstates 290 and 55. If you're headed north on Interstate 55, as you enter the Chicago area, exit at Central Ave. and go north on Central to Pershing Road. Go left on Pershing (3100) to Austin. Turn right (north) on Austin to Cermak and turn left. The theatre is two blocks west of Austin.

--by Mark H. Reddig and Sandi Soendker, Land Line staff

Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com. Sandi Soendker can be reached at ooida@aol.com.