Scott County is laying out a mountainous list of roads and transit needs and then asking its citizens how they’d feel about a new tax to help out.
The next step is a public hearing next week to hear some reaction.
Here’s a quick backgrounder:
Q: What’s prompting this now, and in an election year, no less?
A: New state legislation permits Scott County to levy a half-cent local sales tax and keep the proceeds for its own transportation needs. County officials are gazing lovingly at what that could yield, but are also bracing for opposition.
Q: What would that produce, compared to the needs that are out there?
A: Not much in comparison, but a lot more than is available now. The tax could yield $6 million a year, but that needs to be set against a wish list that runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Q: Is that roads or transit?
A: It’s both, and there’s no ranking by priority. (See accompanying list.) There are huge projects, such as $100 million for an added lane on the Bloomington Ferry Bridge, and equally costly ideas for a semi-transit high-occupancy lane for Hwy. 169 such as the one on I-35W. There also are trails for bikers.
Q: What makes anyone think that tax-averse Scott County would buy in?
A: A key element of the pitch will be the importance of entertainment venues in Scott County, such as Valleyfair and Mystic Lake Casino, bringing spending in from outsiders.
“We don’t want to put any taxes on anyone,” said county commissioner Tom Wolf, representing one of the more conservative rural districts. “But 70 percent of our sales taxes are paid by people outside of Scott County. A lot of people in my district [in rural townships near Lakeville] are going to Wal-Mart in Dakota County and paying their transit tax! Let’s keep the money here!”
Q: What other alternatives are there?
A: That’s just it — one alternative, from a DFL legislature, is a bill that pushes Republican-dominated Scott County into the metro-wide transit sales tax, like it or not. Scott has signaled a willingness to at least consider the conditions of such a move, but a briefing paper for civic leaders warns:
“This proposal raises approximately $12 million annually in revenue from Scott County, but only guarantees about $1,650,000 would be controlled by Scott County (and this could only be spent on transit).”
Q: When and where is this hearing?
A: At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 1, in the County Board room at the courthouse in Shakopee.
Q: What is the timeline for a decision?
A: That is vague at this point. The hearing is being depicted as a listening session only, not a prelude to any quick conclusion. County Commissioner Jon Ulrich said, “This could easily run into next year. I’m expecting a careful, thoughtful debate.”