State transportation: Spend efficiently before spending more

  • Article by: DAVID C. OLSON
  • Updated: January 16, 2014 - 6:46 PM

MnDOT, Met Council have work to do before asking taxpayers to sacrifice even more.

I have been working on transportation issues since my days at the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce in the early 1980s. One thing never changes: The “advocates” never have enough money, whether it be for roads or transit (“State’s in a jam for transportation funds,” Jan. 11). Before everyone climbs aboard the new-revenue train, I urge folks to pause for a minute.

I hear the naysayers:  This is just the business community whining about high taxes again. Not so quick. I remind everyone of the time and money the business community has invested in transportation infrastructure.

In 2006, we led a broad-based coalition that raised $4 million to pass a constitutional amendment. As a result, today 100 percent of the receipts from the motor vehicle sales tax are dedicated to transportation. That means an additional $300 million a year starting in 2012.

In 2008, we led the effort to pass major legislation, including an override of then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto, to help fund roads and transit in a 10-year, $6.6 billion plan. The gas tax was raised by 8.5 cents, phased in over several years.

Minnesota businesses understand the need to move people and goods safely and efficiently. But our support was underscored with conditions.

As part of the 2008 legislation, MnDOT was directed to put together an efficiencies task force to recommend how funds could be better spent. Until recently, those recommendations have largely sat on the shelf. MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle is doing what few of his predecessors have done by focusing on building efficiencies within his operations. To his credit, he and his top staff have been meeting with a small group of outside business advisers.

We have raised plenty of taxes in Minnesota lately. A much wiser path is to make good on what was promised in 2008. Only then should we debate new revenues.

David C. Olson is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

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