Willie Wilson

Willie Wilson, Who Gave Away $1.2 Million in Gas, Calls Lightfoot's Gas Card Program ‘Political Stunt'

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Chicago businessman and philanthropist Dr. Willie Wilson, who recently gave away $1.2 million in gas to area residents, has dismissed a new plan unveiled by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to provide $12.5 million in prepaid gas and transit cards as a “political stunt.”

Wilson, who will announce in April whether or not he will challenge Lightfoot in the 2023 Chicago mayoral election, released a statement Thursday arguing that the gas card giveaway will not do enough to help city residents deal with soaring gas prices, and called on state officials to waive taxes on fuel.

“This plan is tone deaf and does not begin to address the needs of those struggling from historic highs in gas prices and taxes added on by the city, state and county,” he said. “Mayor Lightfoot’s actions are reflective of her being out of touch with the citizens of Chicago.”

Wilson urged lawmakers in Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois to suspend taxes on fuel, which add up to nearly $.78 per gallon.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has not called for a suspension of the state’s 39-cent-per-gallon gas tax, but has proposed that the state halt an expected increase of more than two cents per gallon, which would take effect July 1 as a result of inflation.

State fuel taxes help to pay for infrastructure projects on Illinois roadways, and a suspension of those taxes has been opposed by many groups who say that it would have an adverse effect on aging infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

Cook County charges $.06 per gallon in taxes, and the city of Chicago has $.08 per gallon tax on fuel.

Originally, Lightfoot had proposed eliminating $.03 per gallon of tax from gas prices, but on Thursday she unveiled a new program that would offer free gas and public transit cards to Chicago area residents.

With gas prices surging to near $5 per gallon in some locations, long lines were reported at four-dozen gas stations across Chicago and Cook County on Thursday, with $1 million worth of fuel given away by philanthropist and frequent political candidate Dr. Willie Wilson. NBC 5’s Lisa Chavarria has more.

The “Chicago Moves” initiative would issue up to 50,000 pre-loaded gas cards worth $150 each, which would be distributed to residents through a lottery system.

The city would also issue 100,000 public transit cards worth $50.

"I know from talking to many residents that they are feeling the strain. There's no if's and's or but's about it. And many are unable to fill their tank as much as they normally would because their dollars just don't stretch that far. So my administration's been working through a variety of options to see how we can provide the greatest relief to as many residents as we can," Lightfoot said.

Pending approval by the City Council, applications for the cards could open as soon as April 27, with applications limited to one per household.

Chicago residents age 18 and older, with a current and valid city sticker on their vehicles, and those with household incomes at or below 140% of the Area Median Income for the city, would be eligible for the cards.

In recent weeks, Wilson has held two separate gas giveaways, giving away $1.2 million in free fuel to Chicago area residents. His last event, held in late March, gave residents up to $50 in free gas, and involved 46 different gas stations in the city and suburbs.

Wilson also teased the possibility of a third gas giveaway.

“I’m enjoying this more than them enjoying it because the struggle – the lord has blessed me to be able to do it,” he said. “That’s about what I got to say now, and we’re gonna try to go back home tonight and figure it out: how can we do more?”

In his letter criticizing Lightfoot’s proposal, Wilson said that he is calling on elected leaders to suspend the gas tax in Illinois and in Chicago, and that if elected officials don’t act “within 30-to-60 days” that he will announce a “real plan” to help area residents.

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