What is currently, the best and surest way to pay for roads and bridges? Answer: Gas Taxes.
Yet when those two words are even whispered in public, the Minnesota GOP goes apoplectic.
There is agreement on one thing. Our roads and bridges need revenue. Rural Minnesota needs a repair infusion. Infrastructure needs upgrades. Minnesota citizens recognize the need – both the governor and the legislature have it as a priority.
But why, when we have a fully dedicated revenue stream, of gas taxes, to do exactly what is needed, do Republicans fight any increase like it is the Alamo’s last stand?
It is not so much about raising taxes as it is about the Republican brand. The MN GOP and their supporters have long ago left the land of rational budgeting and have fallen in love with gimmicks and illogical opposition.
Here is my favorite visual that demonstrates the MN GOP version of budgeting.
Since the MN GOP has to be against a tax in any form, they have to dig another hole in the budget in order to fill any need. The 2018 GOP majority put together a ridiculous idea that regular tax revenue for car parts and services could be shifted from the general fund and dedicated to transportation funding (the way the gas tax is dedicated). Voila, problem solved without raising taxes….and another fight for inadequate funding somewhere else.
But the gas tax is not covering our ever increasing needs in infrastructure and so we have been taking an increasing share of general revenue to fund transportation (estimate of $400 million right now). In addition, local governments are putting more of their own money into meeting local transportation needs.
It has been 5 years since we have had any increase in gas taxes. It has been 10 years since legislation was passed via the Pawlenty override (and a bridge collapse) and it had been 20 years before that that we had the last previous gas tax increase.
Minnesota has 285,000 miles of roads to maintain in this state. That is the 4th highest total in the nation. We have other issues as well. Most notably, our weather is very hard on road maintenance and clearing roads in our long grueling winters is also very costly. We do an admirable job of doing the work, but every year it requires more revenue. We are just not keeping up.
Governor Walz has proposed a 20 cent gas tax hike and yes, that would put Minnesota among the top 5 states for gas taxes. But we have put ourselves so far behind because of an unwillingness by the Republican Party to use the fee for service funding method of the gas tax. And because of these lack of funds delays for priority projects, the final costs of these projects is getting higher and higher with each passing, delayed year.
Twenty cents would be nice and it would come close to catching us up. But we have to add something this year. The revenue must be increased by a substantial amount.
We cannot keep kicking this can down the damaged road.