Minnesota has a serious transportation funding problem. We’ve underfunded our roads for a generation, and we’re paying the price for it. Since 2002, we’ve slipped to 29th in the amount of roads rated as substandard by the U.S. Department of Transportation. MnDOT projects (based on current funding) that we will be about $2 billion short per year over the next 20 years to both maintain our current roads and keep up with population growth. Increasing fuel economy in our automobiles also will decrease the utility of our gasoline tax — a Toyota Prius, for instance, uses half the fuel of the similarly sized Toyota Corolla, but the Prius weighs more and actually does more damage to the roads as a result.
The costs of our failure to properly maintain our roads comes directly out of our pockets. Not only do we spend more time idling in traffic, but the products that we buy in stores do the same. Wasted fuel and wasted time add to the cost of every item in your local grocery, discount, or department store. Good transportation infrastructure has always been a key differentiator for this state, and we are watching it literally crumble away underneath our feet (and tires).
Both parties have failed to adequately address the depth of the problem as it currently exists, and nobody has yet articulated a complete plan for the future. To prepare for the future, though, MnDOT has been recruiting drivers to do a test of a potential means of data collection for a mileage tax. There’s obvious downsides to a mileage tax — it’s harder to collect, and depending on the means of collection there are potential privacy concerns. But at least someone is looking forward and looking for solutions.
Of course, that means there are people who are still looking backwards. Included are many Republican members of the state legislature, including Carver County’s own Rep. Ernie Leidiger. Leidiger has signed on as a co-sponsor of H.F. 1713, which would prohibit MnDOT from going forward with the mileage tax study.
A mileage tax may or may not be part of the solution going forward. But if Leidiger and his colleagues want to slam the door on even looking into it, it’s then incumbent on them to develop their own solution for Minnesota’s transportation funding problem. Given that the GOP caucuses in the Legislature opposed any new revenue for transportation before the 35W bridge collapse, opposed new revenue for transportation after the 35W bridge collapse, oppose Gov. Dayton’s bonding proposal which included some road projects, and still oppose any new revenue for transportation purposes, I’m not holding my breath but would really like to be pleasantly surprised.
If they can’t come up with a plan of their own, then the logical question is how they intend to keep our state competitive — do they expect the roads to build themselves?