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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Will MN House GOP Understand The Transportation Problem? Nope.

Category: Transportation
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.
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MN GOP Solutions: Saving Taxes - Getting Less Done

Category: Transportation
Posted: 12/23/14 20:05

by Dave Mindeman

The MN State Republican Party has outlined their legislative priorities. Their "solutions" if you will. Sounds a lot like "old" Republican ideas.....

On transportation, expected to be a key issue this session, Downey said the party will oppose any new taxes or fees to fund maintenance of roads and bridges. In a nod to outstate Minnesota, the Solution Center calls for a higher priority for roads and bridges over new urban-suburban transit projects.

The trouble with the MN GOP is that they cannot seem to focus on future thinking. It is always maintenance not progress. Status quo not innovation.
This is especially true regarding their thoughts on transportation. The investments needed in transit always frustrate them because they cannot make the correlation between road maintenance (and its limited future) to the costs of a full transit system that has no gaps.

Roads and bridges have heavy maintenance....are inefficient in regards to moving people....and have suffered from poor planning and weak investment over time.

The ideal would be that roads and bridges would get proper maintenance while transit continues to receive current investment funding. That would give Minnesota an infrastructure edge and a future that can be planned for.

But Republicans don't think that way. To them, it's either/or. They refuse to do both. And they also have the wrong-headed belief that if they only allow this Hobson's Choice, that it will be enough for the Minnesota economy and save a burden on the taxpayer.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

If they think that greater Minnesota is being short changed on transportation investment, the answer is not to pull investment away from transit, but to find a sustainable method to do both.

A seven county metro tax increase, as Dayton proposed a couple of years ago, keeps transit funding intact, but gives greater Minnesota the choice of not participating. They do not have to shop and spend in the metro - it is their choice.

And an increase in the gas tax would be dedicated to roads and bridges and pushing for outstate priorities would then be appropriate.

But the House Republican majority is sending the signal that these options are not on the table. It is like taking the transportation pie - removing half of it - and then everybody fights for the other half. And then tell people that they, the GOP Majority, were looking out for their interests.

In this case, saving on taxes, means fixing less, building less - and eventually costing us more.

That is the "new" idea on transportation from the MN GOP.
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Think Small Govt MN House GOP Can Fix MN Transportation Needs?

Category: Transportation
Posted: 11/16/14 02:13, Edited: 11/16/14 02:14

by Dave Mindeman

I grew up on a farm in southeastern North Dakota. A real rural area. Middle of nowhere really. My brother and his family still live on the homestead. He never gave up on life in the wide open spaces.

When I go to visit, I head out on Interstate 94 all the way to Breckenridge, Minnesota. Then I take a 4 lane county road west for about 10 miles and hook up with Interstate 29 heading north. I take an exit that indicates I am near Galchutt, North Dakota....although you won't see it from the interchange and if you did drive the 3 or 4 miles to get to it, you might not recognize it as a town.

But I head west on that county road - 2 lane highway now - for about another 8 miles. As I get close to the farm the pavement stops. And the last 3 miles changes to a narrow gravel road with the dust and kicked up stones that go with it.

I imagine many Twin Citians have never even driven on a gravel road. It is a pretty unique rural activity and farmers navigate them all the time..going to and from their fields.

That gravel road has been there for a long, long time. It kinda gets maintained by a local with a grader. Paid by the county. Not much I would imagine. And it is a pretty tough job in the winter.

For years my brother has been waiting for that road to get paved. A lot of the cross connecting points have been....but this particular road still holds out for old school.

Probably hard for the county to justify paving it. There are only about 10 or 12 farms along that stretch between county roads. And there isn't much indication that those numbers are going to grow any time soon.

So...if you are a small government person....who wants to prioritize....that road is probably going to stay gravel for the foreseeable future.

That is one of the reasons that I remain skeptical that the new Minnesota GOP House is going to follow through on rewarding greater Minnesota after that region gave them the political wins to take back majority control.

Transportation is a big deal in rural America. It is the connection they have to the outside world. There aren't any big city snowplows out there when a blizzard hits. Those farmsteads aren't a high priority for road clearing when the weather demands action.

Small government wants efficiency and small government puts 10 farms on a gravel road as a low priority project that can wait...and wait...and wait.

Small government and budget cuts are not friendly to rural America. They don't have the population numbers to make demands and the money needed to invest in rural areas is pretty hefty to justify that need.

So what happens? The MN GOP House needs to reward greater Minnesota for the faith placed in them. Roads and bridges? Yes. High priority? Yes. But it would seem that it needs to be done without taxes or new revenue. At least that is what they keep telling us.

So what does that mean? Well, I hate to tell the suburbs this, but that means you suburbanites can kiss those transit projects goodbye. Bus Rapid Transit....Light Rail....increased bus services....or even that massive interchange fix that has been needed for years...yeah, all that stuff is going to disappear - in a cloud of gravel dust and asphalt.

Now, I do not begrudge the needs of greater Minnesota. There is a lot of work to do out there. But the idea that the small government, prioritizing Republicans are going to satisfy the huge transportation needs of a growing and vital Minnesota economy is...well....difficult to fathom.

Frankly, I think any real success on that has about as much chance as that gravel road in rural North Dakota has of getting paved.
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