The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

June 13, 2014

Blue Earth Co. looks at adding sales tax for roads

Could generate more than $7 million

(Continued)

"So there is a need out there," Forsberg said. "It's a pretty well documented need."

Stuehrenberg said Beltrami County, before passing its sales tax, laid out the needed transportation projects in the Bemidji area, and most business owners and residents alike ended up supporting the tax.

"They set up public meetings before they passed it and explained what this would be used for ... transportation needs and not wants," Stuehrenberg said.

The board is already seeking input from the business community via Greater Mankato Growth, which serves as the Chamber of Commerce and as an economic development organization in the Mankato area.

Greater Mankato Growth, as with other controversial government issues, hasn't taken a stance as an organization on the local option transportation sales tax, said Patrick Baker, director of government and institutional affairs for GMG. But surveys of members and conversations with major employers have shown a strong recognition of the importance of good roads, a realization that funding isn't keeping up with demand and some willingness to support the local funding options.

"Deteriorating infrastructure and lack of infrastructure does more harm to some of our businesses than (collection of) increased tax revenue does," Baker said.

About half the workforce at the largest local companies drives to work from homes outside Mankato and North Mankato, Baker said. In all, between 10,000 and 20,000 commuters drive to jobs in those two cities but live elsewhere — which further emphasizes the Mankato economy's reliance on the wider road system.

In a survey of more than 100 GMG members, 69 percent agreed or strongly agreed with a statement that Minnesota needs additional revenue to keep the transportation system safe, effective and properly maintained. In a question specifically about the local option transportation sales tax and the wheelage tax, 31 percent opposed enacting either, but 47 percent supported enacting one or the other, or both.

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