St. Paul residents voting on 1 percent sales tax increase to pay for roads, parks

Signs marking road construction zones
A St. Paul sales tax increase the increase would help fund road improvement and reconstruction projects throughout St. Paul.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News 2022

Residents in St. Paul will vote next week whether the city’s sales tax should be increased by one percent to help pay for street and park improvements. 

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter says the increase will help fund road improvement and reconstruction projects throughout St. Paul, including more than 44 miles of arterial and collector roads owned by the city. 

“The sales tax proposal is to make our streets better. All of my life, all of all of our lives, St. Paul residents have complained about the quality of our streets, we’ve never done the exercise to say, what would it take to make our streets fundamentally better,” Carter said. 

Carter says the proposed sales tax increase, which would provide $738 million for street improvements and $246 million for parks and recreation facilities improvements, would not include food, clothing and other essential items. 

“But for one cent on every dollar that we spend, that’ll generate just under a billion dollars over the next 20 years, to help fix our streets the right way, and significantly improve our parks in our city,” he said.

The money would be used to revitalize park infrastructure that are in poor condition, as well as community centers, trails, connections and athletic facilities. Revenue would also fund a multipurpose community center on the city’s East Side and a 1.5-mile river balcony downtown. 

When asked why those funds won’t come from property taxes, Carter says residents are already being asked to carry a heavy tax burden. He also says the sales tax helps spread that responsibility to non-residents.

“When we think about particularly our streets and our parks, both are used significantly by people who do not live in our city and do not contribute to our city’s property tax base,” he said.

Carter says roads are supposed to be reconstructed every 60 years, but when he took office, St. Paul's streets were on a 124-year reconstruction cycle.

“That’s just not good enough. Our streets are telling us that right now. And if we don't invest right now, we’ll find out really quickly that we’re out of time to kick the can down the road.”

In July the St. Paul City Council voted to add the language to the ballot.

Critics worry that it will have a negative impact on local business.

The St. Paul Area Chamber argues a higher sales tax rate would push consumers to shop in lower-taxed neighboring municipalities, and may disproportionately impact those least able to afford it.

Voters, like Joy Collman who has lived in St. Paul for six years, say while she will vote yes for the city’s sales tax proposal, she has mixed feelings. 

“I think a lot more money needs to come from the state. We’ve had a budget surplus in Minnesota even before the COVID aid. So I’m really frustrated. I do vote Democrat and the Democrats are in charge, and I’m frustrated that with the Democrats in charge, and a budget surplus, plus all the federal aid that the state was given during the pandemic, that more money isn’t coming into the capital,” Collman said. 

According to the city’s website, the state surplus represents one-time funding for projects across Minnesota, not just in Saint Paul, and local government aid has been cut a few times in the past 20 years. 

Carter, who says the city needs sustained, ongoing resources to address maintenance and infrastructure needs, says nobody really loves adding a sales tax.

“This is I think the least bad of a bunch of bad options that we inherited when we came into office. And I think residents really understand that nobody’s excited to increase property taxes or sales taxes. Nobody’s excited to see this go up. But everybody knows we have got to improve the quality of our streets,” Carter said.

If passed by voters, the sales tax increase would take effect April 1.

Visit the city’s website to learn more about the proposed sales tax increase.

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