Guest Commentary: With historic budget surplus road funding could reduce property tax pressures

Published 6:16 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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Local governments are struggling to keep up with the cost of maintaining basic services and basic infrastructure in the face of huge inflationary cost increases and declining state aid. Chief among those responsibilities: fixing potholes on local roads and replacing deficient bridges.  In fact, most of the thousands of miles of roadway in Minnesota are under the jurisdiction of a county, city or township, not MnDOT.

 While Minnesotans pay user fees like the gas tax, license tab fees and motor vehicle sales taxes that go into our highway trust fund, most of that money goes to state trunk highways and thanks to the pandemic and supply chain issues, those revenue sources are not generating the money expected. That means local governments have to turn to local revenue sources like property taxes more and more to take care of roads and bridges.

 Many local jurisdictions try to use other tools like a wheelage fee or a street assessment but those are becoming challenging to use. In areas with large swaths of property-tax exempt properties, other taxpayers have to pick up more of the burden. Local governments are doing what they can, but the state needs to help out with revenue generated through user fees collected statewide and distributed based on need.

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 Our roads, bridges and transit systems need fixing. Roads are deteriorating and bridges are becoming structurally deficient while rails and buses are aging. But the funding just doesn’t go as far. Resurfacing two miles of roadway has increased 25% in the last two years. Equipment purchases have increased dramatically. The cost of a snowplow was $260,000 in 2020 and now it’s $340,000.  That traffic signal on your corner? The price has gone from $207,000 in 2019 to $335,000 today.

 As the legislature and governor debate how to invest a historic state budget surplus, they should commit to dedicating more of the surplus to repairing basic infrastructure like local roads, bridges and transit systems. These investments will create opportunities for more careers in engineering and construction, helping to support local economies.

 One easy change: finish dedicating the sales tax already collected on auto repair parts to transportation. A full dedication would provide stable, ongoing funding and can be directed specifically to local government infrastructure. More state assistance can go a long way to reducing the pressure on local taxpayers.

 Jen Desrude

President of the City Engineers Association of Minnesota

 Sheldon Steele

 LIUNA Local 405, Business Manager

 Brian K. Pogodzinski

President of Minnesota County Engineers Association