Minnesota Poll: No tax and no rush on bridge, public says

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2007 - 5:02 PM

Minnesotans are satisfied with their leaders' handling of the collapse and don't support a gas tax increase.

Minnesotans aren't clamoring for action from state leaders in the wake of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found, supporting neither a gas tax increase nor a new special session to fund bridge repairs.

The poll found 50 percent of respondents opposed raising the gas tax, while 46 percent supported it. The gap is within the poll's margin of sampling error -- 4 percentage points, plus or minus.

The poll, which surveyed 802 Minnesota adults Sept. 18 through 23, also indicates that the public doesn't fault Gov. Tim Pawlenty or the DFL-led Legislature for not dealing with the bridge collapse in a recent special session.

Sixty-eight percent approved of the way Pawlenty handled the disaster, and 58 percent approved of the Legislature's handling of it.

A majority also sees no need for another special session to deal with bridges. By 53 percent to 42 percent, respondents say the matter can wait until next year's regular session.

Strong feelings on tax

Minnesota's gas tax, among the lowest in the nation, is likely to figure prominently in an upcoming legislative debate over how to pay for bridge and other transportation improvements. That debate has intensified as a result of a revelation last week that replacing the 35W bridge will cost much more than state officials estimated two months ago and likely require a substantial infusion of state money.

Supporters and opponents of a gas tax hike responded with strong feelings.

"I think it's a bad idea because they waste our money anyway," said Pam Dionne, 45, of Minnetonka, referring to the state and federal government. "They should use it properly, then they'd have the money for inspections. I think we are taxed way too heavily."

But Virgil Schneider, 65, of Chaska, says increasing the gas tax is the right way to pay for improvements because high-mileage drivers pay the most.

"The more I use it, the more I'm going to pay for it," Schneider said. "A user fee seems very fair to me."

The poll asked if people would accept higher gasoline taxes "to pay for increased inspection and repair of bridges."

Responses varied most by education and party affiliation. Fifty-seven percent of college graduates approved of raising the gas tax, compared with 45 percent of those with some college education and 39 percent of those with none.

Support also split along party lines, with 56 percent of Democrats willing to pay a higher gas tax and 41 percent of Republicans willing to do so.

The poll's margin of error is larger for subgroups like those defined by education and party affiliation.

'Muddy waters'

Some who have followed the issue over the years were surprised that more people didn't support a gas tax hike in the aftermath of the disaster.

"I would have thought the bridge collapsing might have been a pretty good indicator that something needed to happen, but it's still muddy waters," said Lee Munnich, who specializes in transportation policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

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