Your Tax Dollars At Work?

In a time when the President of the United States is asking us to find alternative fuels to end or lessen our dependence on foreign oil, an elderly Illinois couple are being punished and threatened by the state for their contribution to the cause.

It all started when David Wetzel (now 79) modified his 1986 Volkswagen Golf.  The diesel vehicle now runs primarily on vegetable oil and gets 46 miles per gallon.  Recycled vegetable oil, in fact, that Mr. Wetzel picks up weekly from an organization that uses it for frying food.

In January, a pair of revenue agents appeared on the Wetzel’s doorstep.  The agents informed the Wetzels that they were required to have a license and were obligated to pay a motor fuel tax, which would be retroactive to the date of the car’s modification.  Mr. Wetzel produced records demonstrating that he has used 1,134.6 gallons of vegetable oil from 2002 to 2006, which would cost $244.24 at the state’s diesel tax rate of 21½ cents per gallon. (Gasoline is taxed at 19½ cents per gallon.)  The Wetzels were surprised at the demand, but willing to pay the full amount and to continue paying a monthly tax (of about $4) thereafter to use their recycled “biodiesel” fuel.

Next, however, the state demanded that the Wetzels apply for a license as a “special fuel supplier” and a “special fuel receiver” and informed them via a letter that until their “business” paid the demanded $2,500 bond (which would cover about the next 51 years of taxes at their present usage rate), Mr. Wetzel “must immediately stop operating as a special fuel supplier and receiver until you receive special fuel supplier and receiver licenses.”  The letter further warned that acting as a “supplier and receiver” without a license is a Class 3 felony, carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison.

On the department of revenue’s Web site, David Wetzel discovered that the definition of special fuel supplier includes someone who operates a plant with an “active bulk storage capacity of not less than 30,000 gallons.” Wetzel also did not fit the definition of a receiver, described as a person who produces, distributes or transports fuel into the state. So Wetzel withdrew his application to become a supplier and receiver.

Here’s the kicker:  the state justifies their demand that the Wetzels register as a “supplier and receiver” because as it turns out, that is the only way the state can legally collect motor fuel taxes from them for their use of biodiesel fuel. Thanks for doing your part, Mr. and Mrs. Wetzel.  Now, pay up, or go to jail.

State legislators have rallied together to try to help the Wetzels (one of them is questioning why two agents were sent to their home back in January to threaten them — is this a reasonable use of state funding?) and the Wetzels themselves have spoken to a state assembly.  No word as of yet on where this will wind up.

Herald & Review Newspaper Website – Decatur, Illinois  |   Kate blogs at  The Original Musings. 

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