Gas-tax rise takes effect April 1

This is Minnesota's first gas tax increase in 20 years; the money will be spent on roads and bridges.

Anna Ewart

Minnesota’s gas prices may be among the lowest in the nation, but people will soon have to scrounge up a few extra cents per gallon.

According to AAA data from Sunday night, regular-grade gasoline is cheaper in Minnesota than in almost every other state. The survey found the average price in Minnesota was $3.02 per gallon, with only three other states reporting lower average prices.

However, average prices will soon go up by 5 cents.

State legislators passed a bill last week that will increase the state’s gas tax for the first time in 20 years, meaning Minnesotans on April 1 will start paying 2 cents more per gallon. The gas tax will increase by an additional 3 cents on Oct. 1.

The state’s gas tax is constitutionally dedicated to be spent on roads and bridges. Legislators who drafted the bill say the cost will be minimal for the average driver and make a big difference on Minnesota roads.

The House and Senate passed the transportation funding bill by overriding a veto from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who said the bill would burden Minnesotans with new taxes.

But drivers may have to pay even more for gasoline if predictions are correct.

The federal Energy Information Administration estimates that this year’s gas prices could peak at a higher price than they did last summer. As a result of the rising cost of crude oil, gas prices are about 75 cents higher now than they were one year ago, according to the EIA.

High gas prices can contribute to slowing down the economy, said Lee Munnich, director of the State and Local Policy Program at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

However, he said the state’s gas tax increase is unlikely to harm consumers because gas prices already vary greatly from week to week.

“It’s possible that the investments that might be occurring in terms of transportation could have more of a positive impact,” Munnich said.

According to The Minnesota Daily Environmental Issues Survey, 61 percent of University students were opposed to raising the state’s gas tax.

Student opinion was evenly divided over support for a gas tax increase that would fund repairs for roads and bridges (51 percent in favor, 49 percent opposed). More students favored a gas tax increase if it would be used to increase funding in Minnesota schools (62 percent in favor, 38 percent opposed).

The survey also indicated that 57 percent of students believe raising the gas tax wouldn’t be an effective way to discourage people from driving their cars.

Munnich said higher gas prices have been shown to cause people to modify their driving habits, but that change happens slowly over time.

“Some people might be in a better position to change,” he said. “If you’re living in a place where you have to drive everywhere you go, then it may be hard to change that quickly.”

First-year student Eric Tran, who commutes from Blaine, said he isn’t upset about the gas tax, but would consider busing if he has pay more than $35 to fill up his gas tank.

Computer science junior Michael Lokken said he drives to campus from Bloomington about once a week. Most days he takes the light rail and bus.

Lokken, who drives an SUV, said he isn’t opposed to a higher gas tax if it goes toward necessary transportation projects.

Although some people may change the way they commute to campus, he said the price of parking is a greater deterrent.

“If gas prices go up to $4 (per gallon), it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop buying gas,” he said.