Recently the Star Tribune’s Editorial Board lamented that legislative leaders missed a golden opportunity to raise gas taxes on Minnesota’s drivers last session (“Minnesota sputters in roads, transit race,” July 6) because it believes that’s the only way we can address our state’s long-term transportation needs.
If you subscribe to this theory, you believe there are only two ways to ensure reliable roads in our state’s future: increasing taxes or imposing new ones.
This mind-set is short-sighted because the facts show that what worked to fund statewide transportation needs 30 years ago no longer works today.
The 20-year State Highway Investment Plan released by the Minnesota Department of Transportation states that revenue growth has slowed because Minnesotans are driving more fuel-efficient and non-gasoline vehicles and are driving fewer miles. The gas tax is not a future-proof source of revenue for our road and bridge needs.
This is why House Republicans thought outside the box this session. We took a thoughtful, deliberative approach and brought in experts to testify in our committee on the issue. After considering the problem from all sides, we determined the need was approximately $6 billion over the next decade.
Recognizing that it defied common sense to raise taxes with a $2 billion budget surplus, Republicans developed and approved a plan that would have invested $7 billion over the next 10 years in our roads and bridges. We were able to do this in part by directing existing general fund revenues that are collected from auto-related sales taxes — dollars hardworking Minnesotans already have entrusted us with to fulfill the duties of the state.
According to various polls, Minnesotans supported this new approach. So did the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which had vocally backed gas tax increases in the past. Observing that it is a “smart funding proposal that provides substantial long-term, dedicated and reliable funding,” the Chamber also noted that “if news of a nearly $2 billion surplus wasn’t enough to do so, the release of this funding plan should end calls for tax increases to fund new investment in Minnesota’s transportation system.”
Democrats disagreed. Their funding plan, characterized in this newspaper as a price adjustment of “a few pennies per gallon,” would have amounted to the highest gasoline tax increase in state history.
Along with being forced to pay a minimum of 16 cents per gallon more at the pump — and that figure would only rise as the price of gasoline increases — Minnesota’s drivers also would have paid increased registration fees and transit taxes, costing them hundreds of additional dollars every year.
In the real world, if your business model is failing, you adjust. You do not continue with the status quo just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” You make changes and alter the plan. Because if you don’t, you fail.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board may be resistant to change when it comes to funding transportation, but Republicans are not. The results prove that what Minnesota is doing is no longer working and that it’s time to pursue some common-sense solutions.
In 2016 our road and bridge funding discussion will continue, and we look forward to putting the final touches on a long-term funding plan that prioritizes transportation within our existing budget.
Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, chairs the Transportation Policy and Finance Committee in the Minnesota House.