The Free Press, Mankato, MN


June 1, 2014

Our View: Road funding shouldn't be one source

Why it matters: Innovation, fairness and efficiency are keys to winning acceptance.

One bit of business left undone in the last legislative session for Minnesota was renewed funding for transportation. It will not be left undone for long.

Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle said last week that he strongly believes further state transportation funding will be passed during next year’s legislative session with a new dedicated source. But it’s not just the source Zelle should be concerned about.

The debate this year became sticky when advocates, most notably MN Move, included funding for metro mass transit and bicycling paths in order to get broad support. To fund these projects, it advocated a 5 percent wholesale gas tax for state projects. That proposal met a brick wall.

Business groups have been a little shy about advocating a gas tax and rightfully so since fuel efficient vehicles have been consuming less gas — and providing less revenue — for road construction and repair.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce pushed back, seeking more evidence of efficiencies before adding new taxes. So MnDOT found $50 million, which is not chump change, but it’s nowhere near the amount needed.

No one doubts the need is real. The Transportation Funding Advisory Committee projected the state is short $21 billion over the next 20 years. But the committee was leaning more toward user fees over general taxes to pay for it.

Clearly transportation funding will be the big issue next year. Gov. Mark Dayton has called on U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis, who helped secure the 2018 Super Bowl bid, to help lead the charge.

To win over the hearts and minds of Minnesotans, the governor and MnDOT should not rely on a singular approach.

We need both innovation and reform — reform in how MnDOT operates and its administrative costs as well as how selections are made. And revenue from various sources should be considered. A mileage tax is problematic today, so small increases in various other taxes — including registration requirements for other vehicles both motorized or non-motorized — should be on the table. Expanding tollways also should be considered. We are not advocating for either of these, but no stone should be left unturned because of political expedience. We need to be thorough and transparent in our deliberations.

Our region’s business community has spoken in favor of increasing revenue for roads if it was consistent, reliable and fair. But it hasn’t said what funding mechanism is the best. Innovation that affects all parties while showing MnDOT is running efficiently and fairly would go a long way toward winning approval.

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