Archived Story

Editorial: Consider issues for transit and transportation

Published 1:25pm Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gov. Mark Dayton’s task force on transit and transportation funding is recommending raising taxes by about $20 billion by 2032 so the state can have a world-class transportation system.

That’s an admirable goal but one that also raises many questions. When legislators convene their 2013 session next month, here are some issues to be considered.

Where does money come from?

The bulk — $15.2 billion — comes from increasing the gas tax. The Associated Press reported the state’s tax of 28.5 cents a gallon would jump 10 cents immediately, followed by annual 1.5-cent increases for 19 years, or a series of 3.5-cent increases during five years with 1.5-cent increases for 15 years afterward.

Other sources include $1.1 billion via a 10 percent hike in vehicle license tab fees, and about $4 billion dedicated to transit from increasing a sales tax in five Twin Cities counties by a half percentage point.

Also under consideration are county wheelage taxes, redirecting certain auto sales taxes from the general fund to transportation, and expanding the MnPASS toll lane system in the Twin Cities. Plus, some reports indicate the plan would require regional or local governments to pay a bigger share of the transit bill.

What do we get for it?

The task force recommendations don’t (and shouldn’t be expected to) provide specific recommendations and projects. But how much support the broader vision generates will inevitably be linked to where this $20 billion gets spent.

Look no further than the heavily traveled Interstate Highway 94 corridor between St. Cloud and Rogers. It’s the busiest freight roadway in the state, and expanding it has been on the state’s radar since at least the last gas tax increase in 2008. In fact, one 2009 report urged this happen by 2018. Yet as recently noted, the state’s latest long-term vision doesn’t include this project.

Would this package make that happen? If yes, when? If not, why would this area support it?

Is “world class” needed?

The “world class” concept is impressive, but it’s one of three put forth by the task force. The other two were:

• Status quo, which assumes no new funding or inflationary increases to funding.

• Maintaining current performance, which assumes sufficient funding to maintain and operate the system in a condition equal to today, including existing service levels and condition ratings.

Again, “world class” is impressive. But is it affordable?

— St. Cloud Times, Dec. 9