Our view: We did right, but still have to payWe’re all to blame. Well, a majority of us. Those of us who chose to drive fuel-efficient vehicles rather than gas guzzlers, who carpooled when we could, and who walked or rode our bikes when the weather allowed: we’re the ones to blame for burning less gas.
We’re all to blame. Well, a majority of us. Those of us who chose to drive fuel-efficient vehicles rather than gas guzzlers, who carpooled when we could, and who walked or rode our bikes when the weather allowed: we’re the ones to blame for burning less gas.
Blame? Yep, because fewer gas sales have led to lower gas-tax revenues, meaning government, including the state of Minnesota, is left to look for other ways to nick us to pay for highway maintenance and transportation needs.
Those of us who simply thought we were doing the responsible and right thing and what was best for our planet have left the state facing a
$50 billion gap between what’s needed over the next 20 years and what’s expected to come in to maintain and to expand as necessary highways, rail lines, port facilities, airports, bike lanes, foot paths and other transportation systems. A whopping $12 billion is needed just for roads and bridges.
“This isn’t a question of ideology. This is arithmetic,” Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles A. Zelle said in a meeting with members of the News Tribune editorial board last week. “Transportation is now becoming, in our admittedly
biased point of view, a top-tier issue. … It directly impacts quality of life and economic prosperity. … The reason people care about transportation is because they care about getting to work and they care about getting to school. And businesses care about getting the raw goods into the factory and their goods into market.”
So how will taxpayers be nicked in this era of more-
responsible driving and declining transportation funding? Gov. Mark Dayton refused to entertain a gas-tax increase during last year’s legislative session. With this year’s session just days away, Zelle is hesitant about going there, too.
“I think everything is on the table,” he said, including that gas-tax increase, a new sales tax on fuel, a new transportation tax on groceries and even a fee assessed per miles driven. Thank heavens Zelle stopped short of saying toll roads would be considered. The gap, he said, has to be filled in a way that’s “comprehensive and sustainable.”
Duluth’s Interstate 35 project of a couple summers back was done right. “That will last,” he said. “We want to do more of that statewide. We could do many miles of thin overlays but if they only last four years the money is squandered. … You just want to be smart about how you deploy the right investment at the right time.”
Zelle can get away with being less-than-specific because there’s a coalition of 150 transportation, labor and business interests pushing for the equivalent of a 15-cents-per-gallon gas-tax increase to raise $700 million for transportation and transit projects.
Move Minnesota is being careful to point out that the
28.5 cents Minnesota collects on every gallon of gasoline now shouldn’t change. Its proposed
5 percent sales tax (the equivalent of about 15 cents per gallon with gas selling at $3 per gallon), it said, would be placed on wholesale motor-fuel sales. Oh, please. Does Move Minnesota really expect Minnesotans not to realize that any wholesale-level cost increase will immediately be passed on to us consumers? Move Minnesota’s proposal is similar to a proposal lawmakers are expected to consider, Forum Communications’ Don Davis reported yesterday.
But what else will be considered? Responsible Minnesotans didn’t mean to, but we drove down revenue to pay for transportation needs. What new and creative — or “comprehensive and sustainable,” in Zelle’s words — ideas will lawmakers come up with to get that money out of us in other ways? The bill is $50 billion over the next 20 years. That’s a lot of us going back to our gas guzzlers.