February 18, 2008

Transportation at the Minnesota Legislature

As expected, the transportation situation in Minnesota is at the forefront of the state Legislature.

The DFL has already introduced a major transportation spending bill similar to last year's...several billion dollars worth. Unfortunately for them, many Republicans are aghast at the large number of 'tax increases' contained in the bill, and the Governor has already put out that he will oppose any tax increases that do not include a corresponding 'tax decrease' elsewhere.

With the state facing a budget deficit, I doubt that'll happen. Unless some major compromise occurs, it'll probably come down to a situation similar to last year: Governor vetoes a transportation bill, the Senate overrides, but the House sustains the veto.

I'm on the mailing list for one state Senator (who shall remain nameless here). The following is part of a legislative update this Senator E-mailed out today:


The $8.4 billion transportation plan introduced last week is very
similar to the bill vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty last spring. It includes a
new 5-cent gas tax with inflationary increases, as much as a 2-1/2 cent
fuel surcharge, a new car registration tax and a half-cent metro sales
tax for transit which is not subject to voter approval.

The bill would undoubtedly provide a large infusion of needed funding
for congested roads and ailing bridges across the state, as well as
funding new state patrol officers and giving transit users more options.
Unfortunately, the bill relies too heavily on new taxes and fees that
would cost all of us directly and indirectly by adding to the cost of
goods brought to market. An additional provision borrows $2.2 billion
for bonding over 10 years. Although the governor has promised a veto of
any bill that does not have a corresponding tax cut, a veto override
attempt could be close.

The House and Senate bills both have a few more committee hearings
before being brought to the respective floors for full debate. At those
stops, it is possible that significant changes will be made, so I will
try to keep you updated on this important bill's status.


Following is my reply:

We're not going to improve the transportation situation by bonding alone, contrary to what the Governor may think. And given the budget deficit that you've already cited, we can't exactly pull money out of the general fund either.

Some sort of revenue increase will be needed. If it takes the DFL and enough Republicans to compromise on a transportation bill that would be veto-proof, then so be it. I'd rather have something than nothing. And if the Legislature ends this session with nothing, you and the Governor will have a lot of angry voters to contend with.

A lot of people are complaining that the tax increases for transportation proposed would "hurt the working poor". Do any of them (yourself included) realize that the working poor are hurt just as much, if not more, by traffic congestion in the metro, poor roadways, and poor transit service? Sure, nobody likes paying more to drive or travel, but if the result is a better transportation system, one that saves TIME as well as the hidden monetary costs of congestion, then it will be worth it.

But the gas tax is still part and parcel of it. Already has Constitutional protection, and is more a "user fee" than most people think.

Nevermind that history shows infrastructure improvements to be economic builders as
well...an important thing to remember in this near-recession economic time.

Lastly, on the subject of tax reform and transportation, it's been long established by the scientific community that heavier vehicles both A) damage roads more than lighter vehicles, and B) require much heavier road construction for the road to support them. Given those in mind, perhaps the state should change vehicle registration fees to be based on vehicle weight instead of based on market value/age depreciation.


Will be interesting to see what happens. Hopefully Minnesotans won't be disappointed in the end.


Zorak said...

Well done, couldn't agree more.

Matty Lang said...

Yes, nice post Froggie. Just a couple of comments. I believe the current bill is already a compromise on the part of DFLers. The amount of the gas tax increase has been lowered. The indexing of the gas tax to inflation has been removed. It's my understanding that the 1/2 sales tax is no longer 100% dedicated to transit. Unless I'm mis-understanding due to poor reporting, this is a major concession by the DFLers.

It seems to me that the DFLers are the only one's compromising on this issue.