Minnesota State Representative Glenn Gruenhagen told the Hutchinson Leader that a New tax won't fix old problems when it comes to repairing potholes and bridges.
Instead, the conservative Republican lawmaker wants those roads to quit lying around the countryside, becoming more efficient and sustainable by getting a job.
As toll roads.
Apparently, we shouldn't be throwing money at roads; rather, they should be throwing in back at us. The Leader's Jeremy Jones reports:
During a visit to the Leader Wednesday, Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, contrasted the differences between Gov. Dayton’s proposal to update Minnesota’s worn-out roads and bridges, and the plan introduced by Minnesota Republicans last week. . . .
While the debate plays out, Gruenhagen said he has a few ideas of his own. He has sponsored a bill that asks to study the idea of toll roads in Minnesota. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, has introduced a companion bill in the senate.
“It would look at the feasibility of toll roads in our major interstate highways, Interstate 90 for example,” he said. “The (tolled portion) would be on the (state) borders. It would generate $100 million additional revenue per year. I would support dedicating that money to roads and bridges.”
Gruenhagen said the real key to making a sustainable future for roads is to become more efficient.
“We can’t just always pile money onto the same system,” he said.
Bluestem believes that maintaining and repairing our same old system of roads and bridges is probably a place to pile money before our Focus breaks an axle, but perhaps we're simply selfish that way, just as families fritter away piles money to replace leaky roofs and drafty windows, to borrow an analogy between government and family budgets that's dear to Republican hearts.
Growth in government jobs
Gruenhagen also bemoans the growth of government jobs, telling Jones:
The [Republican House transportation] plan asks MnDOT to cut 15 percent of its costs. The governor’s plan asks for a 5-percent cut.
“I’m sorry, that’s not going to cut it,” Gruenhagen said. He said he didn’t think the 15-percent cut would keep MnDOT from serving Minnesotan’s effectively.
“(Minnesota) added, from January 2012 to January 2015, 5,725 new (full-time equivalent jobs),” Gruenhagen said. “That’s more than the population of Glencoe. They all need salaries, they all need benefits. When we have that many employees we can make reductions.”
He said those new hires are included in MnDOT.
When Bluestem sought to fact check Gruenhagen's claims about job growth, we had a hard time finding data in the exact time frame between January 2012-January 2015, but we did find one that's pretty close in terms of the number of added jobs in roughly the same time frame.
On February 11, 2015, Pioneer Press senior political reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger wrote in Minnesota government staff grows 5 percent since 2007:
Minnesota employee numbers have grown -- 5 percent bigger since 2007 -- and Thursday, a state House committee will ask why.
"What are we getting for the five percent increase?" asked House State Government Finance Chair Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth. Anderson's committee requested the employee data and will bring Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans to the committee to answer for it.
In the summer of 2007 the state had the equivalent of 35,730 full-time employee spots, according to the new state data. By last summer, it had 37,412. That's a jump of about 1,700 jobs.
"State employee level increases are comparable to private sector job growth over the same periods," said John Pollard, Minnesota Management and Budget legislative and communications director.
While much of the employee growth has happened during DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's tenure, he was also governor when the state saw its lowest recent employee count. During the three months that included July 2011, Minnesota Management and Budget figures show an employee count of 31,686. The reason for the big dip was a three-week long state government shutdown when a Republican Legislature and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor deadlocked on a budget, shuttering offices, furloughing employees and halting hiring.
It took until the middle of 2012 for employee counts to bounce back to their pre-shutdown level -- even then the numbers were below what they had been in 2007. Still, Anderson noted, there was a surge in state employment between the summer of 2011 and last year. . . .
When we do the arithmetic, subtracting 31,868 FTE from the high figure of 37,412 FTE, we end up with the figure of a 5726 gain, which is suspiciously close to the 5725 jobs that Gruenhagen claims are added between January 2012 and January 2015.
What's more, it's unlikely that the number of state jobs climbed between the summer of 2014 and January 2015 since many jobs at the DNR and MNDOT are seasonal, if fulltime. Stassen-Berger looks at where the growth occurred between 2007 and 2014:
The four largest state departments -- the Departments of Natural Resources, Human Services, Corrections and Transportation -- increased their size very little in the past seven years. Back in the summer of 2007, the quartet had 18,967 employee positions. In the summer of 2014, they had a 260 more, clocking in at 19,226 FTEs. During that time period, the Human Services Department, which has an employee count of nearly 7,000, actually decreased in size and the Transportation Department, which clocks in with about 5,000 FTEs, added 281 spots. . . .
During the summer months, natural resources agency employee numbers tend to increase and then dip again when fall arrives. The same is true of the transportation department.
Between summer 2007 and summer 2014, MNDOT added 281 spots, just about 5 percent of the total gain of 5725 or 5726 new FTE positions created between summer 2012 and summer 2015--or January 2012 and January 2015, depending on whose time frame you're using.
But there's an added factor. Gruenhagen wants those roads to be "efficient" and appears to measure "efficiency" primarily in terms of laying off workers. If 5000 FTE employees now staff MNDOT in summer, and 15 percent of that workforce is laid off, that's 750 fewer workers, since that's how Gruenhagen's defining efficient.
Dayton's 5 percent? If measured only by staff reductions, that's about 250 FTE--far less than the workers taken from road and bridge building and repair that Gruenhagen is requesting. Indeed, the Dayton plan comes to flattening out job expansion for MNDOT, whereas the Glencoe conservative shrinks the number of people around to build or fix roads.
Maybe he's on to something--and toll roads not only pay for themselves, but magically repair themselves as well. Maybe there are tiny little construction worker elves that cheerfully do the work if we set out asphalt and tiny, tiny Tonka trucks and graders at dusk.
Photo: Minnesota State Representative Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe.
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