Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Last week, the Legislature passed a comprehensive transportation package into law by overriding the veto of Governor Pawlenty. This legislation was the responsible solution to address the deteriorating condition of Minnesota's roads and bridges. We have severely ignored our transportation funding responsibility far too long. The non-partisan Legislative Auditor confirmed this in a recent report that said we have not adequately maintained our current roads and bridges. Under current funding scenarios, roads in poor condition will double by 2011. In addition, our transportation debt from borrowing has increased 650% in the last five years. This funding gap is highlighted by the transportation needs in our area. According to MnDOT, the I-94 corridor between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities will see traffic increase by 121.5 percent by 2025. MnDOT recommends five specific projects totaling $389.3 million to meet this need. But due to the backlog of needs, only one of these projects is currently on MnDOT's "to-do-list" for the next 25 years. Our balanced transportation package will significantly address the transportation needs across our state with a $6 billion investment in our roads and bridges over the next 10 years. The bill includes $600 million to fix the 13 worst bridges in the state in the next two years and will create more than 30,000 construction jobs per year in the next five years. The main funding source is a phased in nickel-per-gallon gas tax. Importantly for Greater Minnesota, 100 percent of gas tax revenue is dedicated to roads (not transit), and is evenly distributed to counties, cities and townships. Nevertheless, it's not an easy decision to increase revenue in this way. However, there are several reasons why addressing our transportation problem in this manner makes the most sense. By adequately funding roads and bridge we can reduce property taxes that have increased because of state level underfunding. For example, the property tax levy for roads and bridges in Stearns County has increased by 85.31 percent since 2005. Our transportation plan will deliver more than $30 million to Stearns County in the next 10 years to lessen the property tax burden for local businesses and property taxpayers. We also must consider the "congestion tax" Minnesotans are paying right now because of our unmet transportation needs. When I drive to the cities, my trip is 87 miles and takes about 1.25 hours. With a car that gets 30 mpg. I burn about 3 gallons of gas. At $3 per gallon, I pay $9 at the pump, but when I am stuck in traffic, my trip takes anywhere from two-and-a-half to three hours, and I burn 5+ gallons of gas. I end up spending an extra $6 in gas and waste over an hour doing nothing (lost productivity). For this very reason, the Truckers Association, the Farmers Bureau, Farmers Union, Corn Growers, and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce all supported a modest gas tax increase because it will ultimately lead to less labor costs, reduced fuel waste, and increased productivity. Years of neglect for our roads and bridges have put us in our current transportation situation. As small business owner of a construction business (I own a roofing business), I know that it is more economical to maintain something over time than to ignore it until it's almost beyond repair. I also know that keeping things maintained in good working order isn't free. Fair, stable funding for our transportation needs is a basic responsibility that our state should meet. Our transportation bill is the responsible policy decision Minnesota needs to meet our transportation demands now, and in the future.