The state has a constitutional responsibility to maintain the transportation infrastructure in Minnesota. The House, the Senate, and the Governor have all presented increased transportation funding proposals. The question of “if” we need additional funding has shifted to “how are we going to pay for it?”
Every second Saturday of the month I come to The Elks Lodge at 10:00am to talk with members of our community about what is happening at the capitol and listen to your thoughts and concerns. This Saturday, February 14th, I will be there to discuss the impact to our communities of all three transportation proposals.
Here are a few of the questions I have heard and will be addressing on Saturday.
Can Highway 14 be finished without new revenue?
No. As a state trunk highway, the work is only eligible for trunk highway bonding out of the highway user tax distribution fund. The debt service in that fund is at capacity and without additional revenue there will be no bonding out of that fund.
The expansion of Highway 14 will cost an additional $500 million to complete from Nicollet to Rochester. The Corridors of Commerce program has funded $20.8 million worth of expansion since it was created in 2013, but even at this rate it would take another 16 years just to complete Owatonna to Dodge Center. That’s too slow.
Why can’t we use general fund money to fund transportation?
This has been the question I’ve received the most. The answer is because we will spend all our time fighting for funds instead of fixing roads. If there is a surplus we would have to first fight for transportation funding against all other spending in things like education and health and human services. It would be a very unreliable funding source, making it impossible to plan future or multi-year projects, and when we face a deficit, there would be no money for construction at all.
The wholesale gas tax isn’t transparent.
The wholesale gas tax would operate in the same way as the current gas tax. The current tax is applied when the gas stations buy the gas from the distributors, not when you fill up at the pump. The wholesale tax would be applied in the same way. The only difference is that it will be based on a percentage instead of a flat rate.
Is the wholesale gas tax constitutionally dedicated?
Yes. Article 14 of the Minnesota Constitution states “The legislature may levy an excise tax on any means or substance used for propelling vehicles on the public highways of this state or on the business of selling it. The proceeds of the tax shall be paid into the highway user tax distribution fund.” The wholesale gas tax fits under this description and all collected money will go toward funding roads.
If you have more questions, please attend my town halls this Saturday, February 14th in Waseca, Owatonna, or Faribault, where we’ll be talking about transportation issues.