We read with great interest the Oct. 8 column by Star Tribune business writer Lee Schafer (“We’ve taken ‘tax the rich’ about as far as it can go”). He suggests that the persistent problem of income inequality in Minnesota demands a new and creative solution rather than relying upon simply raising taxes. We believe the same can be said for addressing the state’s transportation funding gap.
Unfortunately, the Star Tribune Editorial Board continues to beat the drum for raising state taxes to pay for transportation needs (“Some states ramp up transportation funding,” Oct. 7).
The editorial leads readers to believe that the business community has sat idle when it comes to supporting more money for roads and transit.
• In 2006, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce led a $4 million campaign to dedicate 100 percent of the motor vehicle sales tax to transportation: 40 percent to transit, 60 percent to roads. That has generated more than $1 billion in additional funding.
• In 2008, we led the charge for legislative passage, and an override of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto, to secure a 10-year, $6 billion investment in roads and transit. The gas tax was raised 8.5 cents, with the phase-in completed just three years ago.
• In the 2015 Legislature, we continued to advocate for reliable, increased funding to meet the growing demands of our state’s aging infrastructure. We suggested then, as we believe now, that this can be accomplished without raising state taxes. We should explore using the general fund to add to current funding, as 33 other states do. We provided an analysis of the assumptions about transportation planning needs that could significantly reduce costs, such as the inflation costs for building roads and bridges.
We, too, were disappointed that the 2015 session adjourned without a transportation funding bill. We were pleased that legislation advanced to a conference committee. Compromise will be necessary to get a bill across the finish line in 2016.
To that end, we’ve been traveling the state and meeting with stakeholders to seek a solution that can bridge the gap between the positions staked out by the House and Senate. That’s a far more productive approach than revving up the rhetoric that dominated much of the transportation debate last session. The state needs a new strategy to maintaining and expanding our valuable infrastructure rather than relying on an unpopular and insufficient gas tax.
Scott Brener, senior vice president and general counsel at SFM in Bloomington, is chair of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Policy Committee.