Minnesota's increased gas tax, or at least the first phase of it, went into effect April 1. It was the subject of considerable debate in the Legislature and if recent letters to the editor are any gauge the debate is likely to continue through the November elections.
Opponents of the gas tax hike, sensing the frustration of beleaguered motorists, are placing blame for rising gas costs on the gas tax hike proponents. Meanwhile, those who advocated for the gas tax, notably the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, are still touting their justification for the first gas tax hike in 20 years.
Margaret Donahoe, executive director of the alliance, rounded up area supporters of the gas tax last week to help continue making the case that the Legislature's override of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of the transportation bill was the right thing to do. Those defenders of the gas tax hike included Crow Wing County Engineer Lyndon Robjent, Brainerd Lakes Chamber CEO Lisa Paxton and former Crow Wing County Engineer Duane Blanck.
The group pointed out that the Legislature-approved transportation bonding projects offer no help to city, county and township road projects. However, estimates are that the gas tax, over a 10-year period, will generate $14.9 million for Crow Wing County roads. During that same period the total new revenue will amount to $1.4 million and about $1 million for Baxter.
Robjent provided information detailing how county roads often receive the least attention because they typically have only one funding source - the property tax levy. County State Aid Highways are funded by the gas tax, license tabs and property taxes, so when the gas tax and license tab fees are increased it reduces the burden on the property tax levy.
Robjent said Crow Wing County is responsible for 613 miles of roadway including 380 miles of County State Aid Highway, 179 miles of county roads and 54 miles of unorganized township roads. He said the influx of gas tax money will help bridge the gap between the levy increase and the increase in construction costs.
The county engineer also pointed out the new revenue will help with road maintenance, which includes snow plowing. Snow plowing costs have increased, he said, because the price of salt and sand has gone up considerably.
Paxton said traffic congestion, as the result of poor roads, has a direct effect on area businesses' ability to grow.
No one likes paying more at the gas pump but the state's transportation infrastructure was in sore need of revenue and sometimes politicians have to make tough choices even when there's a political risk involved.
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