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A tax hike I can support

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Wide White: A tax hike I can support

Monday, May 14, 2007

A tax hike I can support

Twin Cities highways are in disarray. Anyone who's tried to do battle with the crosstown (I-35E/MN-62) or the I-94 corridor between Minneapolis and St. Paul, not to mention various slowdowns on I-494 through Bloomington, knows that there are two words that best describe driving Twin Cities freeways: slow, bumpy.

My wife works 8 miles away. It takes her at least 25 minutes to get there - and that's on a good day. My old 16-mile commute took 45 minutes each way.

There are two solutions to this problem.

1. Redesign the freeways. This is being done at a few intersections and is badly needed. The cloverleaf ramps that dominate the area's freeway landscape are outdated and extremely sluggish. Spaghetti Junction in St. Paul is a daily nightmare. There are major improvements that need to be made.

2. Expand public transportation. I took the bus from Oakdale to Minneapolis, which still took at least 30 minutes, not to mention my 7-minute drive to the bus stop. It was bumpy and inconsistent, with bus times varying widely compared with what the schedule predicted and one bus even breaking down. I now take the light rail, which - I know a number of conservatives will hate me for this - is GREAT!! I love the regularity and smoothness of the light rail. It runs every 6-7 minutes and is standing room only by the time we get downtown.

Both of these projects require dollars. Those dollars don't just come from anywhere. I'm a big believer that our government should expand user fees and reduce general taxes such as the income tax or property tax. The Minnesota state legislature just passed a package that promises to provide the necessary funding for these projects.

Call me crazy, but there are a few tax and fee increases in this package that I actually support. I'd like to see them off-set with cuts in property and income taxes, but that's unlikely. Still, I think that we need the improvements, and I think this Democratic plan makes more sense than Governor Pawlenty's.

I've bolded the portions of the bill in this story with which I agree. Those portions with which I disagree are in italics.
The Minnesota House today passed a transportation spending package containing a controversial nickel-a-gallon gas-tax increase.

After a two-hour debate, the House voted 90-43, sending the package on to the Senate for an expected endorsement later today. The vote was what will be needed to help override an expected veto from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has said he opposes any bill containing a gas-tax increase.

The legislative package, reached by a conference committee last week, would raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year for roads, bridges, and transit. Supporters of increased roads spending say more than $1 billion a year is needed to upgrade road conditions, make them safer, reduce congestion, and help maintain the state's business climate.

Democratic-Farmer-Laborites led the call for more spending.

"We have needs now," said Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove. "Not in a few years. We need this money now."

"This is a good bill," said Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, the chief sponsor of the House bill.

The bill was opposed largely by Republicans.

"We want a bill that will be signed into law," said the House minority leader, Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall. "This bill will not be signed into law, members."

But not all Republicans were in the camp.

"If you are worried about it being too expensive, it's not even enough," said Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.

In addition to the gas-tax increase, the bill would authorize the state to borrow $1.5 billion over a 10-year period, with the debt repaid from a gas-tax surcharge of up to 2.5 cents a gallon. The nickel-a-gallon gas-tax increase would raise $145 million a year.

The 5-cent-a-gallon gas-tax increase would go into effect Sept. 1. The gas tax has been at 20 cents a gallon since 1988.

The bill also would give metropolitan-area counties authority to impose a half-cent sales tax and funnel that money to local transportation and transit projects. Rural counties could do that if they get voter approval.

In addition, it removes $189 and $99 caps on motor-vehicle license-renewal fees in place since the Gov. Jesse Ventura administration.

Initially, those proposals would raise more than $500 million a year and increase to more than $800 million by 2011.

Pawlenty already has vetoed four budget bills, and has promised to veto this one. His transportation proposal relies on a $1.7 billion borrowing package over the next decade.
Do I hate the idea of increased fees and taxes? Of course. Who likes paying more money? But money doesn't come out of thin air. There are times when a tax/fee hike is necessary, and I believe now is one of those times.

Two things with which I disagree: a.)Authorization of metropolitan county tax hikes without voter consent and b.) borrowing money. I don't think the state should ever borrow money. Debt is a horrible thing for enough individuals; it's reckless for the state to join the club. And I don't like my county taxes being raised under the authorization of the state.

If you're still reading, I'm not sure why. This is probably a pretty boring topic to most of you and I don't have that many readers. Willy-nilly. Just checking to see if you're paying attention.

Okay, for those of you who did read the whole thing, I'm ready to hear about how I'm a turncoat and how awful it is that I'd suggest that DFL leaders are right. Bring it on; I'm ready to be brought down.


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