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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL)

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Why 10 Cents?

Monday, March 26, 2007
To the Editor – Last week, a letter questioned why I support a 10 cent increase in the gas tax. Here are just some of the reasons. Minnesota’s traffic congestion levels have increased 1500% over the past thirty years. We lead the nation in growth of congestion. The average commuter spends 43 hours per year stuck in traffic – and the current trends project we’ll be spending even more hours in the car in the years to come. More than 500 people die each year on Minnesota’s roads – most of them dying on rural, two-lane county roads. Good roads aren’t a luxury. They are the circulatory system for our state’s economy. Without free flowing roads, it takes more time and money to get products into stores and it takes more time for employees to get to work. When you go to the grocery store or your local Target, every product has the cost of transportation built into it. Your car insurance reflects the cost of property damage and personal injuries in car accidents across our state. Our roads used to be paid for by user fees. Now, increasingly, the state is not doing its share and local governments are picking up the slack – and getting their funding from property taxes. Last year over a billion dollars of local property tax revenue – almost 20% of all property taxes collected in Minnesota – was spent on roads. When you fill up your tank at the gas station, the amount of money you are paying in gas tax covers less than half of the cost of the roads you are driving on. This is why the Minnesota House and Senate passed transportation bills last week that would increase the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon. Wisconsin’s gas tax is 12.9 cents higher than Minnesota’s, yet the average price of gas is just a few cents higher per gallon than ours. Our neighbors in Wisconsin are paying about the same as we do, yet they are funding their roads at a much higher level. A 10 cent increase in the gas tax wouldn't mean a 10 cent increase at the pump, but it would mean more funding for our roads. Minnesota ranks 40th in the nation in its gas tax. Last increased in 1988, the current gas tax is 20 cents per gallon. Inflation has eroded its purchasing power. To have the same purchasing power we had in 1988, we would need to raise the gas tax by 14 cents – to 34 cents per gallon. However, we cannot solve twenty years of inaction all at one time. And no one is proposing a 14 cent gas tax increase to be even with our 1988 level. Instead, the Legislature has backed proposals that raise 10 cents, going about two-thirds of the way to our 1988 gas tax level. This is a reasonable proposal given the magnitude of our transportation needs in Minnesota. Even with the recently passed Motor Vehicle Sales Tax Amendment, we are about a billion dollars behind in our annual road maintenance and construction budget. A 10 cent gas tax increase would raise $320 million per year. It wouldn’t solve the whole problem, but would help us keep the current timelines set for road projects. When we look at where we are and where we want to be in our transportation system, we have to let the facts drive the debate, then make responsible decisions. Deciding what level to set the gas tax can’t be based on emotion and doing what feels good. Large majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate voted in favor of 10 cents a gallon because the facts overwhelmingly support that our state needs the increase. Minnesotans didn’t elect us to dodge the difficult decisions and I am glad that the vast majority of the Minnesota House and Senate bit the bullet last week and did the right thing for our state. Now as the House and Senate bills move to conference committee, I am hopeful that legislators and the Governor will have good and productive conversations about how to move Minnesota out of park. The compromise should be driven by facts and figures and not political calculations. Minnesotans have waited long enough for leadership on transportation. Let’s work together to deliver it to them in 2007. Sincerely, Melissa Hortman State Representative