Reading Mike O'Rourke's article in the Brainerd Dispatch, 2015 Session: New perspectives may surface at Legislature, reminds Bluestem of the need for clarity in discussing the gas tax and transportation funding:
The rural perspective on transportation was evidenced by the lack of interest expressed for funding mass transit projects. [Senator Paul] Gazelka [R-Cass County] said the Republican perspective on transportation focuses on adequate funding for roads and bridges. Light rail is not a priority, he said.
"I don't see it as efficient at all for the dollars we spend on it," Gazelka said.
[Senator Carrie] Ruud [R-Breezy Point] said she was opposed to a gas tax hike, because so much of it would go to mass transit projects in the urban areas. [Emphasis added]
"Transportation will probably be the No. 1 thing we address," Ruud said. "We didn't do anything last biennium."
Ruud's statement that so much of a gas tax hike would go to mass transit projects in the urban areas is a paraphrase, so we're not sure whether to credit the mis-statement to her or the reporter trying to grapple copy from interviews with six different legislators in his area.
But as written, that copy prompted us to crowd source a question about the gas tax on Facebook: can the gas tax be used to pay for mass transit? Those responding to our question included several former legislators, but Gustavus Adolphus College mathematics and computer science professor Max Hailperin pointed us to the section of the Minnesota Constitution governing the fuel tax and the funds it feeds.
The "gas tax" as commonly understood can only be spent for roads (including streets) and bridges via three funds. Motor vehicle sales taxes are divided between transportation (60%) and transit (40%) and
We don't want to rip Ruud for this statement, because it's a paraphrase and there are proposals for several taxes on the table.
Last week, the Pioneer Press's David Montgomery reported in Mark Dayton wants to limit tax increases to transportation funding:
Minnesota's highway needs can't be met without more tax revenue, Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday -- setting him up for a possible clash with the new Republican majority in the House.
Dayton is finalizing his 2016-17 budget proposal, which aims to raise what he says is the $6 billion Minnesota's roads need over the next 10 years. The plan calls for a 6.5 percent wholesale surtax on gasoline -- separate from the existing 28.5 cents-per-gallon tax already levied. That means the tax would bring in more money when gas prices increase.
"Our transportation systems are getting worse," Dayton said. "Anybody who drives to work anywhere in Minnesota knows they're getting worse, and they'll continue to get worse unless we spend more to improve them."
Republicans say they want to fix the state's roads, too -- but GOP leaders say Dayton's tax hike isn't needed. Instead, they want to shift money from public transit to roads. . . .
One could shift other monies from public transit to roads, but it wouldn't change where state "gas tax" funds, as consumers commonly understand the tax, are being spent. They're already being spent on roads, bridges and streets.
In Minn. politicians agree transportation systems need improvements, Bill Salisbury reports via the Fargo Forum:
Dayton said he is putting the finishing touches on a $6 billion transportation improvement plan that could add 12 cents in new taxes to the cost of a gallon of gasoline and a nickel more for every $10 of taxable purchases in the seven-county Twin Cities area to fund bus and rail transit. . . .
Dayton said his plan would fund both state highways and local roads, plus transit.
He will call for a 6.5 percent sales tax on gasoline at the wholesale level, in addition to the current 28.5 cents per gallon tax at the pump. That would cost drivers about 12 cents more on a $2 gallon of gas. The tax bill would rise with fuel prices.
The new gas tax would raise an estimated $5.9 billion over the next 10 years, with $3.8 billion earmarked for state roads and bridges and most of the remaining revenue for local projects.
In addition, he said he will seek a small, as yet undetermined increase in the motor vehicle registration tax, known as “tab fees,” and he plans to increase funding for transit in greater Minnesota by $120 million over 10 years.
It seems clear that while Dayton wants additional revenue for transit as well as roads, bridges and streets, the gas tax increases will go for the latter rather light rail or buses.
However, as the Tax Foundation pointed out in 2013, Gasoline Taxes and Tolls Pay for Only a Third of State & Local Road Spending. The Star Tribune has posted some nifty newsgraphics that illustrate (among other things) the gap between the gas tax revenues and costs of roads, bridges and streets.
Photo: Road construction.
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