Editorial: Road plan filled with potholes

Published 9:22 am Monday, March 30, 2015

While every Minnesotan can appreciate the desire and wanton need for the Republican Party to carry the mantra of no new taxes, when it comes to road funding we should instead focus on no new unnecessary spending and no risky borrowing.

The Republican plan for repairing and replacing crumbling roads and reducing congestion relies too much on strategies that will cost us more in the long run as roads deteriorate further. It calls on borrowing more than $2 billion, adding to a debt structure the GOP itself often called onerous in the last few years.

It also calls on raiding the general fund in an unprecedented proposal that creates risk that nursing homes, schools, college tuition might be negatively affected by our game of catch up on long neglected road funding.

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Even Gov. Mark Dayton and Democrats would rather not pay a higher gas tax. Who would? But sometimes, the tough decisions have to be made, and as we have said many times, the cost of fixing a road increases exponentially as we wait.

The Republican plans calls for diverting some money from sales taxes collected on auto repair and other items instead of a gas tax. We’re not sure how that’s different than a gas tax. The consumer pays, in most cases, either way.

In fact, a gas tax is more likely to be passed on to businesses in the supply chain of gasoline where there are many wholesale buyers, sellers and brokers. Many gasoline retailers use gasoline as loss leader, so may be willing to absorb a gas tax in this highly competitive market where free market influences will dictate market share, not price, as a priority. Consumers might be shielded from a gas tax increase.

Auto repair shops would likely have no incentive to eat the tax. They all have an itemized bill. Consumers would pay.

We applaud the Republican Party and its partner the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce for urging MnDOT to be 15 percent more efficient and counting the savings for road funding. Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle committed to a 15 percent plan a long time ago.

The Republican/Minnesota Chamber plan is also good in that it finally takes a 10-year look at the problem. The groups seem to be acquiescing to agree to the numbers: $7 billion to $8 billion for roads and bridges. Hopefully, talk of a new study has gone by the wayside at our urging.

So the Republican plan is headed down the road to fixing our roads, but its way forward is filled with fiscal potholes that if left unchecked, will cost us more in the long run.


— Mankato Free Press, March 24

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