Ramsey County is doubling its tax on registered vehicles, hoping to collect an extra $4.1 million a year to pay for roadwork.
The County Board’s decision was accompanied by a blizzard of photos — of roads improved by the wheelage tax in the past, and the dire condition of current infrastructure such as bridge pillars and the like.
“We wanted to show clearly what would not have been done but for this money,” said County Board Chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt.
The wheelage tax will go from $10 to $20 per vehicle for county residents beginning in January. Half the proceeds will go to pavement preservation, the other half to needs such as bike lanes and wheelchair ramps.
The tax is collected when owners pay for their vehicle registration each year.
Tuesday’s vote was 4-2, with commissioners Janice Rettman and Blake Huffman dissenting. No one disputed the need, but some were unhappy with the way it’s being done.
“It strikes me as unfair that $20 is $20 whether you drive a $150,000 car or a $50,000 car,” Huffman said. “I’d rather do it through the levy.”
Reinhardt smiled. “A $150,000 car?” she said. “You travel in different circles than I do.”
“Not in my garage,” Huffman said.
However, commissioners and staffers stressed that state law doesn’t allow for distinctions of that kind when it comes to the wheelage tax.
A series of slides showing what the tax has accomplished included photos of a full reconstruction of Ford Parkway in St. Paul with new medians, bike lanes and parking.
Deputy County Manager Heather Worthington’s presentation was a tutorial in what it takes to keep people moving around the county and how short-lived are some costly items.
Stop signs and other signage “have a useful life of five years before they lose reflectivity,” she said. “Pavement markings deteriorate the more it snows and there’s a lot of plowing.”
Some of the more startling images included badly decaying pillars beneath bridges. Worthington hastened to assure viewers that they weren’t actually dangerous, though they “look pretty terrible.”
And not just that, added Rettman. “Many have load limits already,” she said. “It’s not just that they look that way; load limits impair a robust transportation system.”
Rettman said she is far from sure that funding will go to the most dire spots in “economic disparity areas,” vs. being spread through the county to ensure that each commissioner’s district gets help.
Reinhardt replied: “We can’t do it all in one year.”