* Press release…
The Illinois Fuel and Retail Association, representing Illinois gas stations and convenience stores, today announced it has officially filed a lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court challenging a new state law requiring fuel retailers to post signs on gas pumps promoting temporary gas tax relief.
As part of a broader tax relief package included in the state budget that begins July 1, state lawmakers required fuel retailers to post signs – at their own expense – to tell motorists about the six-month suspension of the scheduled motor fuel tax increase scheduled for July 1.
Josh Sharp, CEO of the Illinois Fuel and Retail Association, said the new law violates his members’ constitutionally protected free speech rights.
“Government does not have the authority to compel private citizens to engage in political speech,” Sharp said. “If the Governor and lawmakers want to promote their political move to temporarily and slightly decrease the gas tax, they have many other ways to do that than to force our members to do it and pay for it ourselves.”
The 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.”
Sharp also noted the onerous penalties contained in the new law.
“The penalties for not engaging in forced political speech is a fine as high as $500 per violation,” Sharp said. “This legislation is an overreach, and we have no choice but to go to court and try to stop it.”
The complaint is here.
The gas station owners argue they’re being treated differently than other businesses whose customers will benefit from the tax breaks. Supermarkets, for instance, will be required, “to the extent feasible,” to print a notice on their receipts that the 1% sales tax on groceries has been waived for one year. If it can’t be printed on the receipt, “then the retailer shall post the statement on a sign that is clearly visible to customers.”
But grocery stores, unlike gas stations, won’t face a fine if they fail to comply, a discrepancy the gas station group states is “a clear violation of Plaintiffs’ Equal Protection rights guaranteed by the United States and State of Illinois Constitutions.”
The suit also warned that customers who see the notice could “mistakenly perceive” that gas station owners are expressing political support for a particular policy, which “is outside the scope of the Motor Fuel Tax Law’s purposes and serves no legitimate governmental interest.”