Transportation task force calls for gas tax and tab fee increases

Union Depot tour
Construction on the Central Corridor light rail project is underway in front of Union Depot Thursday, April 26, 2012 in downtown St. Paul. The depot's is undergoing extensive renovation inside and out to turn it into a transit hub for bus and train traffic. A task force appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton is calling for increases in the gas tax and tab fees to help the state pay for transportation.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

A task force appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton is calling for increases in the gas tax and tab fees to help the state pay for transportation.

MnDOT Friday released a summary of the proposal, which aims to guide the debate over roads and transit funding when the legislature resumes its work next month.

Dayton created the 19-member Transportation Finance Advisory Committee last year, tapping representatives from government, business and labor to find ways to fund and improve the state's transportation system over the next two decades.

MnDOT acting-commissioner Bernie Arseneau, who chaired the committee, said the task force envisions building a world-class transportation system.

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"One of the things the committee really wanted to stress was that we need to look at high return on investment projects where we are not just going with traditional solutions, we are trying to provide solutions that have within them efficiencies and effectiveness in order to serve the citizens of Minnesota," Arseneau said.

The task force suggests ways to address a projected $50 billion shortfall in transportation funding and boost revenues for highways and transit.

Among the group's recommendations are boosting the gas tax to raise more than $15 billion over the next 20 years and increasing vehicle registration fees by 10 percent for another $1 billion. The task force also recommends increasing a transit-dedicated sales tax by a half-cent to generate an additional $200 million per year for metro area transit.

At a meeting Wednesday, Metropolitan Council Chair Sue Haigh said the proposals would generate more stable funding for transportation.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who serves on the task force, said the recommendations would make Minnesota more competitive and help the state keep and attract jobs.

"We are going to have growth between now and 2030. The estimate is that there are going to be over 900,000 additional people in the metropolitan area. How are they going to move around," McLaughlin said. "If we don't make investments in our transportation system the existing gridlock is going to get a whole heck of a lot worse."

The proposed increases in taxes and fees will be offset by reducing the state's reliance on property taxes to fund transportation, McLaughlin said.

Republican Rep. Mike Beard of Shakopee, who has chaired the Transportation Committee, said he is not opposed to potentially raising the gas tax and vehicle fees, but worries about burdening taxpayers too much.

"At some point we are going to price ourselves out of the market and things become counterproductive," Beard said. "The thing I think the roads-and-bridges-oriented folks like myself were interested in is that if we raise the gas tax it had to be spent on roads and bridges and it would help us to come up with maintenance and reconstruction of the infrastructure we have."

Beard is skeptical of expanding rail transit, and said buses would likely be a better investment. He said the debate at the Capitol this session could come down along urban and suburban lines, rather than party lines.

MnDOT officials say the governor has a copy of the task force summary. MnDOT is expected to release more details about the report in the next two weeks.