Editorial: The wheelage tax actually is fair

Published 10:38 am Thursday, August 1, 2013

The wheelage tax approved last month for Freeborn County motorists is good for local roads and fair to the general public. We applaud state legislators for extending the option to Greater Minnesota counties and applaud county commissioners for approving the tax.

It’s a good tax because it would raise about $290,000 to offset the cost of repairing deteriorating county roads. Owners of cars, vans, trucks and SUVs in Freeborn County would pay an extra $10 when they renew their registrations.

There is no doubt that the funds are needed — or else lawmakers need to pass laws to make it easier for counties to close and phase out roads in rural areas with dwindling populations. The laws are set up where counties must maintain these roads regardless of use. It’s easier in Minnesota to close a rural school than a rural road.

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And here is why it is a fair tax.

Fuel taxes make motorists pay based on how much fuel they consume. The more a person uses the roads, the more gas they buy and with that the more taxes they end up paying. That’s fair. But the fuel taxes only go so far toward paying for highways. Most of the cost of roads is borne by payers of sales and property taxes whether they own a motor vehicle or not. Not everyone owns a car, right? And no one is required to own a car.

Should a 10-year-old kid buying bubble gum at a store have to pay sales taxes that ultimately go toward the state assisting the county ensure there are two blacktops that connect Mansfield and Kiester? How about a 90-year-old man who no longer drives? Should his money make sure there are two ways to get from Alden to Freeborn? How about a developmentally disabled woman who bikes and walks to get around, causing little to no wear and tear? How about a 20-year-old college student who rides a bus to class and is struggling to pay the rent?

When opponents of the tax talk “fair,” they ought to consider the entire population, not just the ones with motor-powered wheels.

Thus, it is only fair that automobile owners pay for a wheelage tax — perhaps it should be called a parking tax — because it is they who venture onto county roads. It is they who need to drive to every corner of the countryside. Even if they don’t use their car often, they probably will need roads to drive to the next town when they do.

Think of it like Congress. The House of Representatives is based on sheer population. The Senate is based on being a state in the first place. Pretty much everyone agrees that it is fair. Well, the fuel tax is based on sheer usage. The wheelage tax is based on having a motor vehicle in the first place. Together, they pay for the roads in two reasonable ways.

Still don’t agree the wheelage tax is fair? Then get busy urging leaders to change state laws to make it easier for counties to close roads.