MY VIEW: STATE LEAVES ROAD FUNDING GAP
Recently, the Blue Earth County Board of Commissioners enacted a 0.5 percent sales tax directed specifically to fund the county’s road and bridge infrastructure needs. This was a controversial decision that had been under discussion for a long time. I congratulate the commissioners on taking this bold step, but I am also very saddened by their need to do so.
While I understand the need, I believe we should all be outraged at this action, not with the Blue Earth County Commissioners who acted boldly, but rather with the Minnesota Legislature. The maintenance, management and development of the transportation system, like education, are a core responsibility of the state. The hard-working citizens of Minnesota pay taxes each year for that very purpose.
Again failing to pass a long term transportation funding bill last session in the face of a projected $2 billion surplus coupled with record low interest rates was irresponsible at best.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has made a strong case for its need for additional revenues in the face of aging infrastructure, increasing costs and decreasing buying power. MnDOT Commissioner Zelle and Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a $6 billion funding plan to tend to those needs over the next 20 years.
While some may argue the scope, the need is very real. This echoes the work of the Highway 14 Partnership that has been relentlessly lobbying for the completion of that lone, most dangerous state highway from New Ulm to Rochester for over 40-plus years. However, the session again adjourned without a transportation bill. Highway 14 is again stalled.
Opportunity lost in a world where time truly is money and costing every citizen and business in Minnesota.
A clear result of this inaction is Blue Earth County’s burgeoning list of projects that has continued to grow over the last several years as the Legislature has repeatedly failed to act on a long term transportation funding bill. As this project list has become more critical, those responsible for the infrastructure and the safety of their citizens and guests have become more concerned and frustrated. The end result was the recent passage of this local sales tax to fund those critical needs.
Luckily, this strategy will work for Blue Earth County, as it has a strong retail base. It will be supported by residents of Brown, Le Sueur, Nicollet and Waseca counties, even though most of those residents will have limited travel on any county roads as they attend Mankato’s retail attractions. However, these same counties, with equal needs, won’t have the same opportunities due to their lack of retail amenities. Long-term effects of this strategy will allow Minnesota to become segregated into “the haves” and “the have nots.”
Ultimately, the local taxing actions of Blue Earth and other counties are tantamount to allowing the Legislature to double dip taxes on Minnesotans while at the same time allowing the Legislature to virtually abdicate their responsibilities and exempt themselves from their role to provide every citizen with those core services like transportation that benefit all citizens, but are beyond the ability of individual citizens to provide.
To cite an old axiom, they are simply passing the buck.
While the upcoming legislative session is scheduled to be short, there is obviously unfinished work to be done. Please encourage your local legislators to find a compromise on long-term transportation funding to the benefit of every Minnesotan. Fix Highway 14 now. Failure to pass such a bill should give citizens pause in the face of upcoming elections.
Dr. Mark Dehen is mayor of North Mankato and is a member of the U.S. Highway 14 Partnership Board of Directors.