By State Rep. Bud Nornes
Transportation is an important item on this year’s legislative agenda, but I haven’t heard people clamoring for their taxes to be raised. Regardless, you and I both will be paying more at the pump and several other places in the future.
Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed the transportation bill last week, but the House and the Senate Democrats both got enough votes for an override Monday. The result is the largest tax increase in Minnesota history: $6.6 billion.
Minnesota was ranked 28th in gas taxes, but will rise to seventh nationally with an 8.5-cent increase in the bill. In addition, we’ll all pay extra for registration and license tabs. There also is a quarter-cent sales tax increase in the metro area – with no referendum - and funding for mass transit.
Through an amendment to the bill, there is no guarantee funding will be equitable between rural Minnesota and the metro area. This is not good for those of us in rural Minnesota and, with a budget deficit looming, it also is ill-timed.
It probably wasn’t by coincidence the transportation bill sped through the House and Senate just ahead of an updated budget forecast. Last November’s prediction called for a $373 million state shortfall, but this week’s updated figure could be in the $1 billion range.
But before Minnesotans had a chance for the shortfall reality to hit, the transportation bill was enacted. Estimates say the increased transportation taxes will cost each Minnesotan in excess of $130 per year. That’s more than $500 per year for a family of four.
What we needed was an earnest look at reform. Missouri and Indiana both largely increased their transportation funding recently without having to raise taxes. The problem in Minnesota was a lack of work across party lines. No Republican amendments were adopted and Gov. Pawlenty was left out of the mix.
We all believe we need good roads, but this isn’t a bill that reflects the desires of everyday Minnesotans. In fact, 70 percent of constituents said “no” to a gas tax in a recent survey I distributed in the local district and my vote on the bill reflected that sentiment.
Furthermore, transportation funding seems to be down on the list of priorities for the people I represent. Of the 10 people I spoke with during breakfast at a local restaurant over the weekend, not one of them talked about transportation being a priority. They’re more concerned about education and property taxes.