Counterpoint: Use efficiency — not more taxes — to fund transportation

  • Article by: SCOTT BRENER
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 7:10 PM

Minnesota transportation officials are cutting costs, but there’s more to trim to meet the 15 percent goal.

Minnesota’s economy depends on the safe and efficient movement of people and goods. The Star Tribune Editorial Board was right to praise the work of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle in pushing for greater efficiencies in the use of our transportation tax dollars (“Transportation on the campaign trail,” Aug. 24).

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has worked closely with Zelle to make progress on this front.

The Department of Transportation, under Zelle’s leadership, has embraced the goal of adding 5 percent to its construction budget in fiscal year 2015 solely by doing things more efficiently, a requirement supported by the chamber and passed by the 2014 Legislature. An additional $40 million to $50 million will be invested in roads and bridges — without any tax increases or new revenues.

We don’t presume that efficiencies alone can close the state’s long-term transportation funding gap. Still, this 5 percent is a starting point in meeting the commissioner’s Transportation Finance Advisory Committee’s recommendation that roughly 15 percent of the gap be closed by doing things more efficiently.

We were disappointed, however, with the Editorial Board’s support for the “gross receipts” fuel tax to help fund transportation. This tax, unlike the existing gas tax, is charged at the wholesale level, then charged back to consumers through an annually adjusted cents-per-gallon tax. Additional revenues should be considered only if they are transparent and fair to consumers. A gross-receipts tax doesn’t fit the bill.

Scott Brener is chair of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Policy Committee.

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