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In Response: Appropriate to amend state constitution to fund road repairs

While we at LHB Inc. often agree with the views of the News Tribune published on its editorial pages, we took issue with the April 3 "Our View" editorial, headlined, "Keep the constitution off the ballot."

Bill BennettThe editorial was regarding legislation by Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, to dedicate 100 percent of tax revenues from the sales of auto parts and from auto repairs, by constitutional amendment, to the maintenance of roads and bridges throughout our state. The dedication requires a voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution.

State constitutional amendments are called for when legislative partisan gridlock is so strong the will of the people can't break it. This is the case with funding for our roads and bridges.

Recent polling shows over 70 percent of Minnesotans want more funding dedicated to roads and bridges. That's because the job is not getting done in St. Paul. Minnesota, like 47 other states, has a Highway Trust Fund. Voters created this trust fund because the dependable funding of road repair is critical to our many multi-year projects as well as for securing federal highway dollars. We need to know that the funding for actual construction will be there in the future as we plan and design road and bridge projects.

Unfortunately, the funding of road and bridge maintenance is falling behind as revenue is not keeping up with the demands and increasing costs.

Road repair is not a special interest. It is in all of our interests for reasons of safety and commerce that our roads and bridges be kept in the best condition possible. This time of year, you need only drive to the grocery store to be reminded of the neglect of our roads during pothole season. Our school buses pay the price. Emergency-response vehicles pay the price. And we all pay the price when our roads and bridges are in disrepair.

Minnesota voters have approved constitutionally dedicating funding for transportation in the past. Without that protection, the Highway Trust Fund likely would be raided and motor vehicle user fee revenues likely would be diverted to other purposes. Dedicating funding to roads and bridges make sense, benefiting the entire population in both metro and nonmetro Minnesota, not a narrow special-interest group.

The proposed constitutional amendment would merely put existing revenue from the sales of auto parts and repairs in a lockbox so we will see more progress in fixing roads rather than watching them deteriorate thanks to the partisan gridlock. Dedicating user fees is a fair way to pay for transportation improvements, because those who use the roads the most pay for the roads.

With a positive state revenue forecast, now is the time to invest surplus dollars into our deteriorating roads and bridges. The people of Minnesota will pass the amendment if given the chance, because it directly benefits the roads and bridges we all use every day.

William D. Bennett is chief executive officer of LHB, Inc., a Duluth-based engineering, architectural and planning firm.