The sky is falling.

Some may remember that phrase from the children’s fable, “Chicken Little.” Well, some mileage-based user-tax advocates (excuse me, mileage-based user-fee advocates) — including a very persistent Lee Munnich from the University of Minnesota — apparently believe the sky is falling as it relates to gasoline taxes.

I was greatly alarmed at the dire warnings in the March 15 commentary (“The case for a mileage fee”), which claimed: “Minnesota’s gas tax … is running out of gas”; “as we use less gasoline, we collect less in gasoline taxes,” and “as gas tax revenues plummet, society loses its ability to finance … infrastructure.”

After reading the commentary, I was propelled to run to my Capitol office to see if these grim warnings were based on facts and therefore needed to be acted upon immediately — or as with Chicken Little, were simply unwarranted cries of hysteria.

Investigating the issue further, I realized we can fund our infrastructure without raising new gas taxes or implementing a mileage-based user fee on Minnesotans and that state leaders do not have to take more from your family’s budget to fix and maintain our roads and bridges.

Rather than “running out of gas,” I found that gas-tax revenue in Minnesota has actually increased every year since 2007, jumping 26 percent in the last seven years. Additionally, tab fees and the motor vehicle sales tax — two other sources of revenue that are used to fix our roads — have also increased.

So now, after running down to the Capitol on a Sunday morning to ensure that I had all of the facts, I am alarmed by the alarmists. You should be, too.

Rather than getting snookered into creating a new and very complicated-to-administer mileage tax, why don’t we look at simpler solutions, like stopping the diversion of our car-based taxes away from roads and bridges?

Right now, no less than 40 percent of the sales tax on new- and used-car purchases gets diverted toward Minnesota’s transit system, including the disappointing Northstar commuter rail line, which was projected to take 5,000 cars off the road but fell short by 75 percent. What’s more, in 2012 (the last year of data available) car owners, via the motor vehicle sales tax, paid more to fund Northstar rail than those who rode the train paid in passenger fares. Drivers should be troubled that they’re funding such inefficient transit systems, especially if they’re concerned about better funding for our roads and bridges.

Cars don’t use transit — they use roads, and drivers need these roads to be in good repair. If 40 percent of the motor vehicle sales tax were no longer spent on transit, it would mean an additional $300 million per year for road projects.

The state also currently has a $1.9 billion surplus, some of which could be used to fund infrastructure, bringing in new spending for our roads and bridges.

Furthermore, to anyone who believes that a new mileage-based user-tax system would be a permanent replacement for the gas tax, this is unlikely. Government is always hungry for more revenue, and if we initiated a program like this in Minnesota, these fees most likely would be collected on top of the gas tax, not as a substitution that would save taxpayers money.

No, implementing a mileage-based user fee isn’t needed to fix our roads and bridges. Instead, we just need to use our existing tax dollars more efficiently.

 

Bob Barrett, R-Lindstrom, is a member of the Minnesota House.