Letter: Use surplus, not new taxes, for roads

Published 10:14 am Thursday, March 5, 2015

By Bill Blazar and Sandy Forstner

Minnesota legislators have been asked by Gov. Mark Dayton to support $11 billion in new taxes to improve our state’s transportation system. The centerpiece of the proposal is a 6.5 percent gross receipts tax on fuel to pay for a long list of road and bridge improvements. And, despite recent news that Minnesota now has a $1.9 billion tax surplus, the governor remains committed to pushing those new taxes forward.



Members of the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee brought the discussion to Albert Lea last Friday, hosting a hearing in the Freeborn County Government Center. More than 30 people, largely government officials, testified as to the need for better roads and bridges.

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We understand the need to invest in a safe, reliable, efficient and multimodal transportation system in Minnesota. However, we do not believe that we need to raise taxes by over $1 billion per year when we already have a $2 billion tax surplus. Instead, we would suggest the State use a portion of their enormous surplus – and dedicate a portion of future surpluses – to invest in transportation. That’s what responsible residents and business owners do every day. They invest when times are good; cut back when the economy slows down.

We also believe that the extent of our transportation problem needs to be more thoroughly addressed and agreed upon. Current data and planning estimates vary:

• In 2012, the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee (TFAC) projected the need for $250 million/year to “maintain” our state roads and bridges. Today, Gov. Dayton says we need $400 million.

• In 2012, TFAC projected the need for $210 million/year to build out the Twin Cities transit system. Today, Gov. Dayton says we need $280 million.

• In 2012, TFAC projected that the metro area transit system could be built out in the next 20 years, and only if we also increased the metro area sales tax by a half-cent. Today, planning documents from the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the Metropolitan Council suggest that the same expansion could be completed with current revenues within the next 10 years.



Residents need to continue to push for greater efficiencies in the delivery of transportation systems. The Department of Transportation has recently made some strides toward that goal, but more needs to be done. We need to eliminate waste wherever possible and maximize the return on the public’s investment; “more miles per billion” if you will.

The high cost of fuel is a real burden to most Minnesota families and businesses, particularly in rural areas where people regularly drive greater distances. Gas taxes are regressive, and higher taxes have a negative impact on many aspects of our economy. Minnesota currently ranks 8th in the nation in gasoline excise tax. The governor’s proposal would add another 18 cents per gallon in new taxes under current prices, a whopping 63 percent increase! And the percentage-based tax continues to rise with the cost of fuel.

We can do better. We need to reach consensus on current and long term transportation needs. We need to find stable and diverse funding sources to address those needs. But first, we need to use the resources we already have and not place further undue pain on taxpayers at the pump.

We encourage everyone to contact Senator Dan Sparks (651-296-9249, sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn) and Representative Jeanne Poppe (651-296-4193, rep.jeanne.poppe@house.mn) and ask them to work toward a more sensible solution to our long term transportation needs.

Bill Blazar is executive director, interim president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Sandy Forstner is executive director of the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce.