Addressing our crumbling infrastructure

The DFL transportation bill is far better than the proposed Republican alternative in MN.

by Ronald Dixon

One of the most pressing issues facing Minnesota is its crumbling infrastructure. In fact, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 Infrastructure Report Card, Minnesota has 1,086 structurally deficient bridges, while another 427 are “functionally obsolete.” Meanwhile, 11 percent of all major roads in the state are in poor condition, costing Minnesota motorists over $1.2 billion in repair costs per year, or $396.25 for every driver.

Our transportation infrastructure harms college students. Some commute to classes, bearing maintenance costs for their vehicles. Others take buses while waiting in traffic jams caused by inadequate roads and highways.

This issue has been kept on the backburner of Minnesota politics for decades. And while we have previously heard promises to repair our state’s transportation infrastructure, not much has been done. Thankfully, legislators on both sides of the aisle have recently taken steps to help solve this crisis.

At the start of the 2015 legislative session, Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, each introduced a bill aiming to invest more money in transportation infrastructure. Of course, with a divided government, our elected politicians will need to come to a consensus.

The Democratic-Farmer-Laborer’s bill would do a better job of funding transportation projects than its Republican counterpart.

The DFL bill calls for $795 million in spending in 2016 alone and would steadily increase spending for the subsequent three years. Much of the money would come from closing tax loopholes and levying new taxes.

The DFL bill’s most controversial proposal is to implement a 6.5 percent sales tax on gas at the pump. At the moment, gas is taxed per gallon. As cars have become more fuel efficient, money from gas taxes has declined. Therefore, this new tax is needed to close the funding gap.

The DFL bill also proposes increasing the vehicle registration tax, closing the vehicle lease tax loophole to help fund greater Minnesota transit, imposing a modest metro sales tax and using general obligation and trunk highway bonds.

The Republican alternative only provides $748 million over the next four years. This is less than one-fourth of the DFL bill’s plan. Moreover, the Republican plan is funded by bonds, efficiencies and the $1.2 billion surplus. This money would be better spent on schools, health care and on reducing education costs.

Pending any changes, the Republican bill is inadequate to address Minnesota’s transportation needs. Both chambers of the Legislature should approve the proposals in the DFL version and send the bill to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk for signature.