Posted: 01/12/15 17:19
by Dave Mindeman
As the transportation proposals start to shake out at the legislature, let's take a step back and examine the situation.
MnDOT desperately needs a monetary injection. The state has been grossly negligent in keeping up with its transportation obligations. This is an absolute government obligation. Sometimes governments take weak attempts to farm this out to a private sector firm but the results have been disastrous.
So unless we want the roads to crumble, bridges to fall down, and our goods and services grind down to a halt, we have to pay for our transportation system.
And we can't just do this in piecemeal fashion. We need a solid, sustainable revenue stream that we can count on into the future. Roads and bridges will ALWAYS need maintenance. Transit needs to be reliable AND affordable - and that also requires a consistent revenue stream.
It would help in the problem solving process if the House Republicans would acknowledge that. They have been moving there in half measures; mostly because their outstate "constituency" is demanding some action, but rather than actually work for a long term solution, they want to patch it together with one time money and force us to deal with this year after year after year.
That is why the Senate proposal MUST be the starting point.
First let's look at the proposal....
State Senate Democrats proposed a new fuel tax of 6.5 percent per gallon, along with a hike in license tab fees and a one-cent sales tax increase in the seven-county metropolitan area, as a way to raise about $800 million in additional state money every year to upgrade Minnesota's transportation system.
It is important to note that the 6.5 percent sales tax will be at the wholesale level. That doesn't mean the consumer won't be paying it - they will - but it will be reflected in the price at the pump. Gas prices will continue to go up and down while your contribution to paying for the upkeep of roads and bridges is worked into that price without paying it separately. You know your total cost when you pay for that tank of gas.
The hike in license tab fees will be more noticeable. I'm sure we all remember the Ventura rants during his run for governor in regards to the license fees he objected to. One of his first acts was to legislate a reduction in those fees and they have been largely left alone since. However, whether it is gas tax or registration fees - these are clearly user taxes and when it comes to roads and bridges, the users need to be the ones paying the bills.
The biggest partisan conflict will be reflected in the metro sales tax increase that would be dedicated to transit.
I hope that all of you in the suburbs are taking note (that especially goes to you in Burnsville/Lakeville - Rep. Roz Peterson's district). The House Republicans have decided that, when it comes to transportation, it will be outstate roads vs. suburban transit. They will not walk and chew gum at the same time - they are going to make this a choice.
So they are going to fight that Metro Sales Tax.....even though, again, it is the users that are paying -- and outstate residents won't have to pay unless they make those metro trips.
But even when it comes to roads and bridges, the House Republican proposal is woefully inadequate. No new revenue - raiding the surplus - and raiding MNDOT's regular funds by blocking transit and moving the money to roads and bridges. And then the total only comes to about $200 million a year for 4 years. That won't even cover road and bridge projects!
Minnesota House Republicans have got to face reality and first admit to the actual problem. We have neglected transportation funding ever since Tim Pawlenty walked into the governor's mansion. And unless we start to actually pay for those needs, we risk stagnating our solid economic growth.
Fund transportation. Sustain that funding. Solve the problem.