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Lawmakers consider putting transportation funding question before Minnesota voters

One thing all sides seem to agree on: Minnesota’s transportation system needs more funding.

Last year, after a legislative session in which no progress was made on how to fund Minnesota’s transportation needs, one state lawmaker quietly introduced an idea: Let the voters decide.

In June, Sen. Scott Dibble, the DFL chair of the Senate Transportation Finance Committee, proposed a ballot question that asked voters if they wanted to take sales taxes already collected on auto repairs and replacement parts and dedicate the funds to highway construction and upkeep. 

Hoping a compromise would break gridlock on the issue, Dibble took part of the idea from Republicans in control of the House, with whom he had clashed all session over a package to fund transportation needs for the next decade. His proposal also included a modified gas-tax increase, which Democrats had been pushing.

Though the bill never came to a vote at last year’s special session of the Legislature, as Dibble had wanted, the ballot initiative idea has survived. As lawmakers head into the 2016 session, transportation funding is once again on the table, and Gov. Mark Dayton and top legislative leaders all say they’re open to Dibble’s idea of putting the question to voters next fall.

“We are talking about not getting into the biennial political food fight in the general fund for transportation services,” said Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “You need long-term planning to get the these projects going and cover major equipment and investment costs. If your funding streams are volatile, transportation will always come up short.” 

An answer to gridlock? 

The type of amendment Dibble has proposed is not unprecedented in Minnesota. The state’s road and bridge fund was actually established via a constitutional amendment back in 1912, when voters authorized the state to collect taxes every year to construct and repair roads and bridges. As recently as 2006, Minnesota voters approved a constitutional amendment (with 57 percent of the vote) to require that all taxes collected on the sale of vehicles go specifically toward transportation spending.

That amendment, phased in over five years, directed about $300 million in new money each year into transportation. It specifically allocated 40 percent of the money for mass transit, with the rest going for roads and bridges.

Last year, Senate Democrats and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton pushed for a 16-cent increase in the state’s gas tax and a sales tax increase in the metro to pay for road, bridge and transit projects across the state for the next decade. But Republicans balked at the idea of raising the state’s gas tax, and instead proposed raising $7 billion over 10 years for roads and bridges through the surplus, bonding and by diverting the auto part and repair taxes into highway funds. Unable to reach an agreement, lawmakers tabled the discussion until 2016.

Sen. Scott Dibble
State Sen. Scott Dibble

In the interim, the gap hasn’t closed much between the two sides. In December, during the November budget forecast presentation, Dayton admitted that he thought his gas tax increase proposal was “dead” under the Republican controlled House. But Dibble and Senate Democrats still plan to push for that proposal during the 2016 session. 

“I know the Republicans really want to get a transportation bill and they don’t want to raise the gas tax,” said DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk. “The Senate position is we’ve already taken a vote on the gas tax and we have it in conference committee and we are going to fight for it. It’s dedicated funding.” 

But Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Republicans are just as sour on the idea of raising the gas tax as they were last session. “They want to raise a new tax, the highest gas tax increase in the history of the state, to pay for a core function of government?” said Daudt. “To me that doesn’t make a bit of sense. It’s a tough uphill argument for Democrats. I’m a problem solver, so I want to solve the problem, but politically, I love that they keep doubling-down on this loser issue.”

All sides open to the idea, with caveats

One thing all sides seem to agree on: Minnesota’s transportation system needs more funding. That’s why the argument keeps popping back up.

Speaker Kurt Daudt
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Speaker Kurt Daudt

Democrats criticized Republican’s plan last year — diverting the sales tax on auto parts and repairs to fix roads and bridges via the general fund — because that cash could get tampered with by a future Legislature.

“I’m open to putting it on the ballot,” Daudt said. “One of the criticism of our plan by Democrats has been, ‘Well, this isn’t really dedicated. It could be taken away.’ I don’t really believe a future Legislature would take it away. I think we can put in place that funding mechanism in statute and I believe it would stay there, but if that brings Democrats on board to our plan, I’m absolutely open to talking about. I believe the public would support it.”

Dayton is open to the idea of the amendment as well, but he’s worried it won’t generate enough money to solve the problem. If approved, the proposed amendment would dedicate about $300 million per year to transportation projects, and Dayton’s administration has identified more than $6 billion in transportation funding needs over the next decade.

“I’ve proposed a constitutional amendment. I think there should be a constitutional amendment. I think some of those general fund revenues, sales tax, could be used justifiably for transportation,” Dayton said in early December, in response to the November budget forecast. “But that’s permanently removing those revenues from the general fund. So, first of all it’s going to deplete the general fund for years ahead. And secondly, it’s not going to be close to what the needs are.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk

Bakk is particularly concerned about diverting general fund dollars into a constitutionally dedicated pot of money. The state is projecting a $1.2 billion budget surplus next session, but with inflation included on the cost of running government, Bakk said there’s not much wiggle room projected down the road. If the money stays in the general fund, it could be spent on anything. During the 2006 amendment debate, groups like Education Minnesota opposed the ballot initiative, arguing it could divert money from schools and other programs. 

“I think it’s a little unfair to use general fund money for transportation,” Bakk said. “It should be a user-funded system. That’s not a general fund purpose. If the public wanted to do it — put something on the ballot — we can explore that idea and we can explore the gas tax, but I’ve never been a fan of putting tax provisions in the constitution. I think legislators should have the courage to take a vote on this themselves.”

Putting an amendment on the ballot doesn’t require the signature of the governor, only a majority vote in both the House and Senate. There’s already one ballot initiative slated for next fall, asking voters if they want to take the power of legislator pay raises out of lawmakers’ hands and leave it up to an independent commission.

But Bakk, who was around for the 2006 amendment, is concerned that an opposition movement could form and quash a transportation funding initiative. “I’m worried a ‘vote no’ campaign would surface and it would fail,” Bakk said. “I’m getting too gray to keep starting this conversation over with a new Legislature each year.” 

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Comments (57)

  1. Submitted by Bill McKinney on 01/25/2016 - 11:05 am.

    Do your jobs!

    I think constitutional amendments are a really bad way to handle issues like this. The landscape of transportation is changing incredibly fast: autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, and drone delivery are all going to dramatically impact the states transportation needs. Locking ourselves into a specific funding scheme like this ties your hands and doesn’t adapt well in a rapidly changing environment. We elect legislators to solve problems and have a longer term perspective. Feel free to step up to the plate and do that!

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/25/2016 - 12:29 pm.


      This is a function of the legislature being unable or unwilling to do their jobs. They’re hired to represent the people of Minnesota and run the state for the peoples’ benefit. Sometimes that means compromising with the opposition to get the job done, not digging in their heels, crossing their arms, and saying no to every proposal the people on the other side of the isle put forth.

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 01/25/2016 - 12:36 pm.

      Transpotation funding

      I agree with Bill. That’s why we elect folks to the legislature: to make decisions which we can live with, not to stake out positions and posture with them. If we need $600 million a year to do the job then the legislature needs to raise the money. Of course it’s hare work…

  2. Submitted by Tim Milner on 01/25/2016 - 11:10 am.


    I don’t normally get this riled up but I found this quote unbelievable

    “I think it’s a little unfair to use general fund money for transportation,” Bakk said

    What is the core function of government? I learned in grade school it was to protect the basic freedoms and rights of the individuals while providing the services necessary for the common good.

    Is this wrong? Was I taught incorrectly? Is that not what government does?

    Transportation has to be one of the essential common goods that a government needs to provide. So how can using general funds for transportation be unfair?

    We have way to many politicians, in both parties, way too willing to spend money on pet projects while shorting the real functions of government. I think we need some serious changes in who represents us.

  3. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 01/25/2016 - 12:28 pm.

    Transportation Funding Vote

    Why does this need to be a constitutional amendment? Why can’t we just add the question to the election ballot as a poll.

    Personally, I think a gas tax increase is the way to go. But if the republicans want to use general fund revenues and the voters agree, so be it.

    We shouldn’t have to clutter up the state constitution just to get voter feedback.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/25/2016 - 03:33 pm.


      Minnesota law does not authorize a ballot question on a statewide election ballot, except for constitutional amendments.

      Budgeting and taxing by constitutional amendment is a bad thing (and yes, I voted against the Legacy Amendment for that very reason).

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/31/2016 - 11:13 am.

        Excellent Point

        Besides, we do elect these guys to know stuff and make proper decisions; otherwise, we might as well change the State Constitution to elect only a Chief Executive, who then would appoint a State Council. Not a very good idea, me thinks.

  4. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 01/25/2016 - 12:32 pm.

    Core function

    Indeed transportation, infrastructure maintenance, and sustainable funding for them both are for the public good.

    Why do you think that multiple funding measures including appropriate user fees are outside the realm of appropriate legislative commitment to meeting the public good?

  5. Submitted by lee wick on 01/25/2016 - 12:49 pm.

    What is Fair?

    The argument is always about the fairness of gas tax and tax dedication. Everyone benefits from infrastructure, even if you don’t buy gas. So what’s fair? What taxes are dedicated to what. It does not seem citizens want to pay for anything they perceive they don’t use.

    • Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 01/28/2016 - 01:15 pm.

      Everyone benifits

      Do they benefit equally? What benefit do I get for subsidizing all the big rigs that destroy our roads? I’d rather pay the true cost of shipping via a gas tax.

      Set the gas tax to bring in enough for maintenance and use general fund money or bonds for new construction

  6. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/25/2016 - 12:50 pm.

    Gas Tax

    The gas tax seems like a very reasonable way to fund roads. Just taking from the general funds partially solves the road issue, but in the process creates a gap in the general fund. That’s just another way to play a shell game while the can is kicked down the road. (Pardon the pun–I swear it’s totally unintentional.)

    What’s missing from this article is a bit of context, so I thought I would banter a few figures around.

    The Minnesota gas tax is currently 28.6¢, which puts us in the middle as for as the nation goes. Alaska is the lowest at 12.25¢ and Pennsylvania is the highest at 50.40¢. Or neighbor to the east, Wisconsin, is a bit higher at 32.90¢.

    The proposed 16¢ increase is the largest in state history when you look at the sheer dollar amount. But when you take past tax increases and adjust them for inflation, this one comes out average or a little low. The 1¢ increase from 1937 would pan out to 16¢ today and the 2¢ bump from 1925 would be 27¢ today.

    Personally, I don’t understand why there’s so much opposition to increasing the gas tax. It’s clearly a user fee, no one doubts that our roads and bridges need help, and this is a bright link to get our infrastructure squared away. The whole business of moving the vehicle sales tax out of the general budget strikes me as a thinly veiled attempt to starve one portion of the government so another problem can be partially solved.

    Now would be the time to bump the gas tax. The price at the pump are at historic lows, hitting $1.55 in areas near my house. If we’re looking for a good time to do it, there’s no better time than now.

    • Submitted by Mike martin on 01/26/2016 - 06:32 pm.

      Democrats proposed 6.5% tax increase not 16 cents

      I cannot believe how careless people are with information.

      One commentator on WCCO said the tax would be about a nickel ???????

      Last year the Democrats proposed a 6.5% tax on gasoline at the wholesale level. Meaning the higher the price of gas the higher the tax. At $2/gal the tax would be 13 cents. At $4/gale the tax is 26 cents per gal.

      Sixteen cents is someone’s guess as to what the tax would average over a some unknown period of time.

      To me the Democrat gas tax proposal is like the mortgages that had a low introductory rate then jumped at the end of the introductory period. I. E. toxic

  7. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 01/25/2016 - 02:49 pm.

    No new roads.

    I share concern about legislating through constitutional amendments.

    But I also am concerned about the idea that the general fund should continue to subsidize the driving habits of some at the expense of all. Yes, access and freedom of movement is part of our freedom. But that’s not what most transportation dollars are used for: They are used to subsidize unsustainable transportation habits of motor vehicle operators. They are used to subsidize sprawl, and moving point A and B further apart for most people. New lanes and new interchanges are not about freedom, they are about convenience. Convenience for a few at the expense of all.

    In Minnesota, only 41.9% of road/highway spending is covered by gas tax + MVST + tolls + all other fees combined. Nearly 60% of costs are paid by general funds. That means people who drive heavily are being subsidized by people who drive infrequently or not at all. And that doesn’t even cover the 84% of local streets in MN (per Strib) that are funded entirely through local revenues (property taxes) and for which adjoining property is generally degraded in value as those local streets are optimized for the flow of traffic through a place rather than the creation of value within a place.

    People who consume significant amounts of lane miles need to pay their own way. That’s not too much to ask. Let alone even paying for the significant negative externalities of their mobility and land use choices.

    Driver convenience is not a legitimate function of state government.

    • Submitted by Dan Berg on 01/26/2016 - 05:49 am.

      Good philosophy

      I agree that users of one mode shouldn’t need to subsidize users of other modes. Let cars, trucks, and emergency vehicles pay for their dedicated roads. A gas tax could be problematic however since it doesn’t account for those using alternative fuels and will become self defeating as mileage increases. Ideally it would be a sort of mileage times an exponential weight calculation. This would account for use no matter what the vehicle fuel type as well as the fact that passenger cars don’t really produce any wear on the roads beyond that of basic aging while heavier trucks and buses create significant damage.

      The flip side is that other modes should be held to the same standards. Rail, bus, cyclists would need to pay their share as well. No reason to subsidize sprawl just because the box people are transported in is a bit different. For transit this is generally easier to manage since user fees are already taken and would just need to be increased to cover all infrastructure and operational costs. Of course buses would also need to pay the higher operating costs based on the new road pricing and their very high GVWR which is double that of a 35′ straight truck. Cyclists and other path users could just be required to buy a license in a way that is similar to state or national park passes.

      Local streets were around before any of the above modes were in use are part and parcel to the adjoining property as they are required for access and basic mobility. Making each property owner pay the full cost while giving the owner more say in what types of traffic is allowed seems to make sense. Communities that want wide streets and higher speeds will have higher costs while those who prefer slower narrower streets with more green space would likely have lower costs. It would also mean that denser communities would have more people to share those costs. City streets could also be compensated from vehicle traffic based on usage counts/surveys. Again with heavier vehicles being the primary concern.

  8. Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/25/2016 - 05:05 pm.

    A little neighborly perspective

    I was looking for something related to the additional (future) taxpayer cost of bonding for transportation projects (as opposed to paying the “interest free” cost at the pump as we go) and came across this July 13th headline:

    “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Signs $73 Billion State Budget”

    It’s an understatement to say I found it surprising that Wisconsin — a state under complete Republican control that has almost the exact same population — has a budget nearly TWICE the size of Minnesota’s ($31 billion bigger than our $42 billion budget to be precise).

    Yet, according to all Minnesota Republican office holders, the size of our budget is outrageous, bloated, off the charts unbearable and in perpetual need of reduction.

    I have no idea which “core government services” Wisconsin is spending the money on, but however you slice it, their governor and House and Senate think it’s okay for Wisconsin taxpayers to be shelling out $15 billion PER YEAR more than we are (their budget is biennial, like ours).

    Everyone that works with, knows, understands the cost of maintenance and improvement of Minnesota’s transportation system says we need to be spending $1 billion per year and some of them think it’s reasonable to ask the people that use that transportation system to pay for it.

    But no. Minnesota Republicans think that people paying a whopping $1.70 to $1.80 per gallon for gas is a bone-crushing terrible idea that will ruin the economy and send the hardworking families of Minnesota spiraling into bankruptcy (after paying between $3.00 and $4.00/gallon for years).

    Master of Republican Ceremonies, Kurt Daubt, just can’t understand a government raising any tax at any time to PAY for “a core function of government.” The cost of labor increases; the cost of concrete increases; the cost of equipment increases; etc.. But when it comes to the government (and the taxpayers that use the system) PAYING for those cost increases “doesn’t make a bit of sense.”

    I don’t know why it doesn’t make sense to Kurt: The last time there was an increase in the gas tax a loaf of bread cost about $1.50. Now that same loaf costs more than $3.00. Does that make sense to him? Has he been complaining to the store manager every time he’s noticed the higher cost of his baloney sandwiches? Has he noticed the uptick in the cost of just about everything since the last time the gas tax was increased?

    But Republicans seem to believe the government is immune to increases in the cost of providing those “core functions.” I guess they think the cost increase fairy takes care of that stuff.

    Or, they always say, “We have way more than enough money in the budget, and therefore there is no need. It can all be covered with existing revenue.”

    Yes… Just like it is in Wisconsin. Same population. Complete Republican control of government. $15 billion per year more in spending of taxpayer money than Minnesota.

    $15 billion more per year. (Excuse me for repeating myself, but I just can’t get over that. Early education? “Can’t afford it.” Good roads? “Can’t afford them.” Decent pay raise for the people working hard to take care of Grandma to help her stay in her home? “Sorry. That’s a budget busting job killer. No funds available.”)

    As we all recall, Kurt Daubt was Scott Walker’s MN presidential campaign chairperson. He said Walker would make a great president.

    “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Signs $73 Billion State Budget”

    Isn’t that interesting? Kurt’s choice for president okays a state budget that big, yet in his own state $42 billion is just too much for him, let alone the $42.5 it would take to provide the “core government function” of transportation.

    If we did that we’d only be spending $14.5 billion per year less than Wisconsin and, by God, we can’t have that. That wouldn’t make a bit sense.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/25/2016 - 10:43 pm.

      apples and oranges

      I think you are comparing apples and oranges, this looks more comparable.

      Amazingly most of the numbers look comparable.

      • Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/26/2016 - 11:36 pm.

        The oranges

        My mistake. “After closer examination” it appears the Wisconsin figure includes the federal money they receive whereas Minnesota’s budget doesn’t (I think). When that amount is added, MN’s and Wisconsin’s budget do appear pretty close to the same.

        As the governor of Michigan said the other day, I apologize, take full responsibility and take back everything I said except the stuff about Kurt Daubt and his Republican colleagues who seem to believe the core functions of government are to cut spending, not do anything that costs money (like tend to the infrastructure) and do everything possible to carry out Grover Norquist’s vision of life, liberty and the pursuit of the happiness derived from trying to starve invisible beasts.

        (I guess it’s no wonder things like paying the real cost of core gov functions make no sense to Kurt and his friends)

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/26/2016 - 01:50 pm.

      The “core government services” Wisconsin spends money on

      Perhaps it’s for the Governor’s legal defense fund?

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/26/2016 - 05:02 pm.

      Not accurate

      The 2016-2017 overall budget for MN is $77 billion, while the overall 2016-2017 budget for WI is $68.2 billion. The $42 billion number is what is expected to come out of the general fund.


      Of course, we can afford a bit more. We’re doing economically better than WI. Our individual income is about 25% higher, on average, and our GDP is growing at around 4.5% vs WI’s 3.9%.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/28/2016 - 01:02 pm.

        Thank heavens for great farm fields, ag related businesses and medical device companies. Imagine if our whole state looked like Northern MN as much of Wisconsin does. My point is there are many factors that differ between ND, MN and WI, and what the DFL has done during the last ~3 years is likely pretty tiny in the scheme of things.

  9. Submitted by John DeWitt on 01/25/2016 - 08:01 pm.

    Subsidizing driviing

    Years ago, Dr. Richard Soberman, a civil engineering professor from the University of Toronto, spoke in the Twin Cities. When the issue of subsidies for driving came up, he argued “Everyone drives, so who’s subsidizing whom” as if it were not a problem. I believe that we could apply the same logic to electricity. Everyone needs it so why not provide free electricity funded through the general fund. Again, everyone’s subsidizing everyone. I think we can all see the problem with that thinking. We have the same problem when we subsidize driving.

  10. Submitted by joe smith on 01/26/2016 - 09:34 am.

    The best information I could find to figure out how Minn roads are paid for was a few years old but showed 65% paid for by other means than general fund. The break downs looked like this 17% from state gas tax, 18% from Fed gas tax, motor vehicle registration fees 14%, tolls 1%, sales tax on vehicles 5% and local and State bonding 9%. That leaves roughly 35% to property taxes and assessments, general funds. Does any one know how to see what % of our gas tax goes to roads? Does 100% of the tax (same for registration fees, sales tax ect) go to transportation funding or is part of it siphoned off to other “special projects”. It is a shame when records of where our tax dollars go are so hard to access…. That is OUR hard earned money, not the law makers! Big Government at its finest, make it hard to get accountability.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/26/2016 - 02:54 pm.

      How much?

      The gas tax is authorized by Article XIV, sec. 10 of the Minnesota Constitution, and the sales tax on motor vehicles is authorized by Article XIV, sec. 9. All of the proceeds of these two taxes are to be paid into the Highway User Tax Distribution Fund (Art. XIV, sec. 5). The money in that Fund is distributed to the Trunk Highway Fund (62%), the County State-Aid Highway Fund (29%), and the Municipal State-Aid Street Fund (9%).

      The Legislature can alter the amount of either tax, but cannot change the distribution to these three funds (there is some wiggle room on the exact percentages).

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/26/2016 - 05:24 pm.

      And these things . . .

      Nice one-page pie chart summaries of where transportation money comes from and where it goes:

      Page with links to same for different years:

      Here’s a link to the constitutional stuff RB mentioned above:

      In terms of budgets and all things financial (as in “where our tax dollars go”), MMB has an extensive set of “insight tools” on their site that cover enough ground to put a horse to sleep (look under the Accounting, Budget, Forecasts and Updates, etc., tabs):

      For example, this “Research and Data” page (under the Budget tab) contains a list of things like “State Tax Collections, FY 1990 to Present; General Fund Spending by Major Area, FY 1990 Actual to FY 2017 Projected; Price of Government (State and Local Revenues), May 2014

      I don’t know if that’s the kind of info you’re talking about when you say it’s a shame the records are so hard to access, but I remember someone from MMB (Jim Showalter?) saying a few years ago that they were working hard to revamp their website to make it easier for Minnesotans to see what’s happening with the state’s/taxpayer’s money. I don’t know about its effect on accountability (always a greased pig), but they seem to have done a good job making the info available online.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/28/2016 - 11:54 am.

    Kinda funny…

    To see people argue about the budget as if the condition of our transportation system is a function of the budget. Look, you either maintain the system or you don’t, and it costs whatever it costs. If you spend less than it costs you’re not maintaining the system and it will continue to degrade, the costs continue to increase etc. etc. We have the money to do this, you either do it or you don’t, but you can’t NOT do it and claim to be governing.

    And by the way, we didn’t get here last week, we had 8 years of republican “leadership” that flat out refused to maintain the system, followed by more years of republican opposition and obstructionism to maintaining the system. And of course our politicians decided to build a stadium for Ziggy instead.

    And as always, I have to point out… all those tax cuts failed to magically produce a properly maintained transportation system.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/28/2016 - 04:45 pm.


      “you either maintain the system or you don’t, and it costs whatever it costs”

      Your opinion interests me because it seems pretty black and white, when the topic is incredibly gray. Do we need to install more round abouts, how bumpy is too bumpy, do we design for a 20 or 50 year useful life, do we set high minimum wages that the contractor must pay their employees on state jobs, do we really need that bypass highway, how much risk are we willing to accept, should we expand light rail and pay for it with a gas tax, etc?

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/28/2016 - 07:02 pm.

        Ah but yes,

        These folks do have metrics on bumpy, useful life, road wear cost per mile concrete vs asphalt, etc. One could always make the claim, that the folks are always padding the numbers for job security, however, alas, no need at this point, by the commenters etc there appears to be a general consensus W/O the metrics that we are in need of investment. Only question is: Who should pay for it? A user fee AKA a tax, or a general obligation fee AKA a tax.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/29/2016 - 09:41 am.

        Roundabouts are new construction not maintenance.

        Maintenance of existing infrastructure isn’t a policy issue it’s a basic necessity, and yes you either maintain it or you don’t. We know what it costs, and yes, you either pay for it or you don’t, and republicans refuse to pay for it. Fine, if republicans want to have other priorities they can do so, but be honest about it, don’t tell us your all about roads and bridges when roads and bridges are obviously not a priority compared to magic tax cuts and “smaller” government. It just happens to be a fact that magic tax cuts and “smaller” government produce crumbling infrastructure. Again, if that trade-off acceptable to republicans so be it, but be honest about.

        • Submitted by Dan Berg on 01/29/2016 - 11:29 am.


          Same thing goes for those who advocate for new projects like light and commuter rail or other new spending of any sort for that matter. We should take care of the stuff we have before buying more stuff.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/29/2016 - 01:36 pm.

          Choices and Priorities

          As noted previously, there is a lot of money in the budget. And the DFL is not willing to prioritize maintenance before wealth transfer. It seems both sides are happy to let the infrastructure be a lower priority.

          It does seem that Transportation as a core governmental function does deserve more than 8% of our spend… Instead even Welfare gets more than it at 10%. And Healthcare gets a whopping 21%…

          And worse… We have a big budget surplus, and the Governor / DFL instead of recommending that we fix the infrastructure with that short term bonus wants to create new services, departments and programs that will cost us more right into and through the next recession…

          • Submitted by Dan Berg on 01/29/2016 - 03:03 pm.

            agreed again

            So on this thread in the comments we have the perfect illustration of why determining funding for things like transportation through politics is a terrible system. Dedicated funding that is tied directly to use would negate the possibility of funding of core functions being stripped and allocated to other priorities or from politicians promising that they can reduce taxes and maintain those core services.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/29/2016 - 06:43 pm.

              Good Idea

              How about the DFL reduce the income or sales tax to offset their gas tax increase. That way both the “dedicated funding stream” supporters and the people who want to keep government growth at or slightly above inflation will both be happy. 🙂

              Also, let’s see them stop proposing government growth, and start proposing using the budget surplus to catch up on these supposed required maintenance tasks. Not much sense taking out a loan(ie bond) when you have the money in the bank…

              Raising taxes/spending faster than the inflation rate AND adding more Taxes for Transportation seem like over reach to me…

              • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/29/2016 - 07:56 pm.

                A differnt perspective!

                Free road repairs and construction! Lets call it progressive gimmick accounting, taking a lead from TPaw and gang. April 2013 Gas was ~ $4.28 per gallon, today 1/29/16, $1.59, Estimates are that a .10 increase would generate ~ $305M per year. Note that $4.28-1.59= $2.69 The point being if one takes a market approach, we presently enjoy $2.69 of free gas value per gallon each time we fuel up relative to April of 2013! They call it opportunity cost.

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/29/2016 - 10:41 pm.


                  TPaw and gang were looking for ways to temporarily fund government during a temporary major recession without raising taxes or cutting spending. (ie short term borrowing via the schools) This was then paid back per plan when the economy recovered. I wish more politicians wisely managed our money like that.

                  What you are proposing is a long term tax increase that will burden the working and fixed income people of MN through good times and bad for decades. Whether the gas price is at $1.59 or $4.28.

                  Please remember that Dayton and the DFL raised taxes excessively and permanently during a boom cycle which has led to a large surplus of our money being in the state coffers instead of in our pockets. I think the least they should do is invest that excess money into our infrastructure and jobs, instead of starting more long term programs/costs that will need to be funded through down cycles and/or taking out more long term loans that the people of MN will need to pay back over the next few decades.

                  • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/30/2016 - 08:49 am.

                    Free Money

                    Thank you for not disputing that the funding is basically Free! These are $ that theoretically would end up in the Saudi’s or Exxon’s pockets, and instead can be used to build infrastructure.
                    Excessive taxes? The notion that the revenue’s can be dialed into the nickle is pretty idealistic, TPaw and crew proved that the deficits can be racked up pretty quickly as well the, 6-8 years back financial planners were suggesting that we hold emergency funding of 3-6 months for rough spots, now it is looking more like 3-5 years. Ironically the safer strategy (conservative) would be to have a 3-5 year emergency war chest not a mere 6 month fund. Still don’t understand how so called conservatives are content with a lets manage our finances on the fly by the seat of our pants strategy.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/30/2016 - 05:30 pm.

                      What is in Your Wallet

                      I will never understand the desire Folks have to let government hold $2 BILLION of OUR money, instead of having government borrow during the downturns. The state through various departments and an excellent credit rating can do this easily as needed.


                      By the way, if there are 2.4 million households in MN. That means the government is holding $833 per household that our personal households could be investing, spending, etc.

                      Instead the State is sitting on it and likely collecting interest that should be going into our wallets. Or helping people with credit card debt to pay less interest.

                    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/31/2016 - 10:14 am.

                      Couple of beleifs (principles)

                      Surpluses are desirable to deficits,
                      Cash is desirable to credit.
                      The economy will not always be in an upswing.
                      We are the government, it isn’t an us them, they are us.
                      Strong healthy governments are better than weak poor ones. Don’t believe it? Look to Somalia, Iraq, Yemen etc.
                      Living and dealing in reality, pragmatic approach, solves problems, idealism is just that idealistic, doesn’t solve any problems.
                      We can do a lot more together than we can alone, i.e. 1+1=3, alone 1=1.
                      Credit card debt? Result of poor spending/budgeting/revenue/investment habits, i.e. deficit spending, sounds like a liberal proposition to help people finance vacations, did that really come form JA?

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/31/2016 - 03:53 pm.

                      Difference of Beliefs

                      Cash and Credit can Both be Good and Both have their place.

                      We are not the government, when they have our money we can not use it.

                      One can have strong government, without it providing a lot of arbitrary wealth transfer. (ie USA pre-1930’s)

                      Nothing idealistic about minimizing gov’t cash reserves and using short term borrowing during down cycles. It is actually pretty practical. The problem with the National Debt is that they forgot to start paying it off when times got better.

                      Personally I carry a large low interest mortgage so I can invest more, and no other loans. I feel for the poorer people who have credit card debt and are paying 10+% because the govt has their money. Bummer for them.

                    • Submitted by Dan Berg on 02/01/2016 - 12:35 pm.

                      A bit of a lazy argument

                      The “We are the government” statement is a bit trite tends to gloss over the real issue. In the end government is simply where the authority for the legal use of force lies. How that authority is assigned doesn’t really reflect directly any particular “we” nor can it. The idea that government reflects some comprehendible will of the people, or that the hash of opinions that make up what is followed has any moral authority, is the most unrealistically idealistic belief possible.

                      The use of they typical lists of other countries is another well worn but toothless trope. Yep, those countries are fairly awful places to be. So is North Korea, Russia, Kazakhstan, or even Greece and Spain at this point. All have very strong governments and with the exception of North Korea are democracies. So it seems like there is a lot of variation in the degree to which having a strong government breads success or the degree to which a democracy means a government is “the people”.

                      My guess is that the most important element to both economic success and good governance is the concept of the rule of law. The more various special interests (including those with which one may sympathize) are able to bend the power of government to fit their objectives the rule of law is weakened. Russia is a great example of this. The person or group in power uses that power to help rig the system and then uses the authority gained to reward those who help them remain in power. In our case we happen to have two groups which while they oppose each other agree to the fact that the system that keeps them in their positions should be maintained. That point of agreement is actually more powerful than all of their relatively minor points of disagreement.

                      While of course cooperation is the core of improving our situations relative to what any one of us could do alone there is no reason to claim government as the only, primary or even best method of this cooperation. The vast majority of it happens freely between individuals and groups and has done so since before governments existed and often taken place very beneficially despite strong government opposition. Again it comes down to government providing a fair and unbiased application of the rule of law. Once we start to try and manage allocation of so many resources through multiple layers of government the there is no way it will be done well or to keep the systems of control even modestly free of corrupting influence.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/30/2016 - 05:48 pm.

                      By the Way

                      I guess I have never seen the Saudi’s or Exxon pay a gas tax since they have the freedom to pass it along to the consumer. And since all of our trucking firms and companies will need to pay the tax, I am guessing they will have the power to push it to us consumers.

                      On the upside the railroads will appreciate the addition competitive benefit.

    • Submitted by Dan Berg on 01/29/2016 - 07:59 am.

      Maintenance before new building

      One step to keep things is check is to support the idea that there should be no new building unless existing infrastructure is kept up. No new lane miles or light/commuter rail or anything else unless the entire system is maintained to a decent level. The reason we keep building new stuff is because politicians get attention for new things not simply maintaining core government functions. Also municipalities want to encourage development in their sandbox in order to increase their tax base. Making political decisions on development rather than simply supporting the development as it occurs naturally.

      The other step would be to attach funding directly to use. Transportation built as an economic function so funding should be tied to positive impact each project brings. If the project impact isn’t enough to pay for itself then it shouldn’t be built. If it can then there is no reason to make anybody who doesn’t use it pay for it. Make property owners pay for the surface streets outside their property and charge users of roads and rail the true costs of what they are consuming. That will also provide a continual stream of funds for maintenance. A positive side effect is that it is a natural limiter on expansive development. Large lots will mean bigger bills for the adjacent surface streets and directly paying for transportation use will discourages which doesn’t have a positive impact greater than the actual costs.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/29/2016 - 01:18 pm.

        Funding Justification

        There’s a problem with the notion that no systems should be built unless they pay for themselves: no new systems would get built. To one degree or another they all get subsidized in both the building process as well as ongoing maintenance. Whether you’re talking a walking trail, road, rail, airport, or shipyard, they all need a kicker to get going and keep in trucking.

        • Submitted by Dan Berg on 01/29/2016 - 04:01 pm.

          Not at all true

          If that were true it would mean that all infrastructure projects are making our economy worse. While some do it seems obvious that as a whole they are helpful. The fact that projects are are subsidized from the general fund is simply a political choice. I would say that there aren’t any transportation projects where advocates don’t say it will have a positive economic impact greater than the cost. In other words, that the projects should be paying for themselves.

          If humans are smart enough to figure out how to build the infrastructure and transportation systems we should be smart enough to develop a funding mechanism that is connected to the actual value they bring and ensures their maintenance for all long as they have a net positive impact. The problem is that these decisions are made based on politics and politics is about rewarding constituent groups using government authority. That authority is most valuable to people when the project they want completed can’t pay for itself. This means that often times politically popular projects are the ones we shouldn’t be building.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/29/2016 - 10:27 pm.

            Core Function

            This “develop a funding mechanism that is connected to the actual value” argument makes little to no sense. We don’t tie the rest of the core government spending to a “logical and related funding” source. They take money from our wallets in many different ways, and then decide how to best spend it to fulfill their perceived duties. (as shown in the pie chart)

            Even the most ardent biker is benefited by good transportation systems, that is unless they own a small plot of land on which they live off their garden and make clothing from the wool from their sheep. There really is no reason to tie this core government service to a gallon of gas sold, anymore than tying the court system funding to the criminals processed. This failed logic will seem even more foolish as battery only cars grow in popularity, since they would be using the roads without paying for them.

            Technically if you want the most progressive funding system… The gas, sales, cigarette, alcohol, and other consumption taxes should all be eliminated.

            • Submitted by Dan Berg on 01/30/2016 - 08:05 am.

              It makes perfect sense.

              We don’t do it for transportation but it would be easy to do and really doesn’t have a down side. Just because we it hasn’t been the way we have done it in the past shouldn’t keep us from making changes.

              The reason we don’t do it is wrapped up in your last sentence. For some “progressive” is always more important than efficient. The best form of funding which helps ensure efficiency, eliminates over building, makes people pay for the environmental impact of their choices and allows for good design is to attach funding directly to use. If you had read my posts you would see I didn’t mention a gas tax because I understand the issues involved with that system. Roads would need to be taxed on a formula based on mileage and weight with large trucks and buses paint exponentially more. Passenger vehicles don’t create meaningful wear on the roads beyond that of simple weathering. The cost of the roads has nothing to do with the fuel used by the vehicle. A gas tax could be used but only to offset the cost of the carbon and other effects of the emissions from that fuel. Cyclists would need to pay a license fee in order to fund their share (they are at this point a statistically inconsequential part of the system) and those funds could be used to build cycling specific infrastructure. Property taxes would pay for surface streets and sidewalks.

              The trouble seems hinted at in your last sentence. The idea that every core function needs a “progressive” funding mechanism. The issue of wealth redistribution should be a separate issue all together. There is no reason transportation can’t be directly self funded. The degree to which we want wealth distribution lets approach that directly and honestly as well through a income or net-worth tax and have that used strictly for redistribution.

              The trouble with our current system is that it is impossible to understand and to open to corruption, misuse and the wasting of billions on systems which aren’t worth the investment. It also allows for the neglect we are seeing in the system. There is no way to properly manage these systems when they are a political football to the degree they currently are. There is no reason they need be so why keep the status quo?

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/30/2016 - 05:44 pm.

                Bureaucratic Job Security

                I personally like the idea of simplifying tax collections and reducing the number of systems and bureaucrats. Just think that every unique tax that is levied has to have someone setting the rate, someone keeping the paperwork, systems to keep track of it, someone to audit it, etc, etc, etc.

                As for corruption and waste in MN, I guess I have not heard of this. That is other than the higher than market rate compensation and job security afforded the public employees. In fact the Bureaucrats even set a prevailing “minimum” wage on jobs that use State funds. Whether the employees are in a union or not.


              • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/30/2016 - 05:55 pm.

                By the Way

                $13.50 to $17.32 per hr to hold a flag in Lincoln county is pretty incredible given the typical wage in that low income rural county.

                $31 to $48 / hr to hold a flag in Hennepin county.

                No wonder folks like those Summer jobs and no wonder our transportation maintenance costs are so high.

                • Submitted by Dan Berg on 01/31/2016 - 06:30 am.

                  Types of corruption

                  To be clear, my use of the term corruption is very broad. I would include the stadiums and other spending to attract specific businesses. Though not a state issue, a good example is a majority of military spending. Various contractors spread production across the country and in to strategic congressional districts to help get the votes and funding needed to continue buying from them. The same thing happens with transportation. Each local entity fights for funding from the state and the state from the feds and does so by complying with politically determined rules even if from an engineering point of view they don’t make sense. In order to achieve better design results we need better design parameters and the best parameters come most directly and not ones filtered through decades of ineffectual political motivations.

                  As for the complexity of collecting the taxes I think in fact it would get much simpler and compliance would improve. Right now we have a federal tax code of around 76,000 pages. We then get multiple other layers on top of it with state, county and city taxes. This is an opaque system where we pay taxes based on political influence, it then goes in to a large bucket and then the money distributed based on political influence. In other words all that matters is influence and not the faction the ground. Total government spending is over 40% of GDP which also explains the nastiness of our politics today. There is a lot of money involved in winning. The wages you mention is a small manifestation of the problem with the current way of doing business. When politics gains influence everything becomes a political issue and the original goals are lost in its corruptive miasma.

                  On top of it we still have large numbers of user fees, license, registration, property assessments, etc.. Don’t forget the special tax district like those in Minneapolis for the conventions center, Hennepin county for the stadium and the fact we still have a sales tax which is applied to some things but not others. Together it is almost impossible for people to actually understand the value of their choices or evaluate what is going on. Of course that is the point of the system being opaque, those who favor spending being dictated by politics don’t want it to be understandable.

                  Changing transportation funding to one which is paid for at the time of use would be a heck of a lot simpler and more transparent. In turn we will get better transportation systems built, waste less, have lower environmental impact and have more as a society to spend on other things. The side effect will be a less corrosive political system and better overall governance.

                • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/31/2016 - 09:45 am.

                  Hourly wage?

                  AP’s contract for 2015 $13M, number of games,16, hours of actual time on the field game, (we’ll be liberal) 4, real clock time 1 hr. Math says: $13M/64, $203,125 per hour. And 1/2 the time he is on a break sitting on the bench! Looking at actual play clock time. $13M/(16*.5)= $1,625,000/Hr. That’s some expensive entertainment to watch a guy run, vs. waving a flag to keep people from getting into accidents, not saying flag waving is a College Education required job either.
                  PS: Got nothing against AP or his contract, just an illustration of gotcha thinking.

                  • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/31/2016 - 04:00 pm.

                    Free Market

                    At least AP’s wage is set based on his personal value as perceived by his supervisor and/or the person who is going to pay him. Not set by some bureaucrat in St Paul who has never met the employee, knows nothing about their capabilities, work habits, attitude, capabilities….

                    Now if a construction company in Hennepin county could bid 25% less by paying the actual markets wages. Thereby saving the MN tax payers money, how could that be a bad thing.

  12. Submitted by John Appelen on 01/31/2016 - 11:59 am.

    Types of Corruption Response

    Just moving us back closer to the left margin. 🙂

    The best way to stop the type of corruption you describe is to keep as much of the spending as local as possible. Local citizens could then keep a closer eye on where their money is being spent. The Feds should only have funding to take care of National Defense, Interstate Commerce, National Law and Order, etc.

    Yet folks on the Left continually want to move more spending away from the local communities and up to the National level. This I never understand… It is amazing the kind of waste it generates.

    By the way, I am indifferent if we go to a single flat tax, a consumption based tax, or some other tax system. The question is do we get rid of the other systems, or do we keep growing the number of systems and number of government employees and citizen burden necessary to just collect money. Collecting taxes is need to operate the government, not to be a governmental jobs program and an excessive burden that make the USA less competitive than other countries.

    • Submitted by Dan Berg on 02/01/2016 - 06:00 am.


      I agree that the more local we can be the better. Some items are better handled at the federal level but it should be as limited as possible. I really believe that allowing a good amount of diversity in state and local systems is a good idea. Feds should be a final authority on maintaining individual rights but isn’t very good at micro-managing behavior or regular-managing projects unless they are truly national in scale.

      For me the best way to simplify would be to look to connect use with payment. Ann intriguing way to do it would in part be a contract tax. It would cover any transaction that the parties would want upheld by the courts. You want to roll the dice and buy a car from your cousin without paying the contract tax? Fine, but there would be no access to the courts if it clunks out on you on the way home. It would also mean that large deals between businesses would be paying large sums to access the U.S. court system.

      I would also prefer a minimum income in place of all other support programs. Figure out what a very basic lifestyle including food, shelter, clothing, transportation and health-care costs in a mid-low cost of living area (say Tulsa for instance) and provide that to all citizens. Pay for it with a straight consumption tax. It high cost of living states or cities want to add to it that is fine.

      Since the contract and consumption tax are fairly similar it would likely be easier to just roll those up together and have it support the minimum income as well as the courts and defense. Environmental impact is the toughest item to handle but I think it can be managed. Having needed revenue come through a consumption tax will already encourage efficient consumption and therefore lower environmental impact. Ideally we would charge at the point of emission but that could be very complex and impossible to manage. No matter how it is collected all of those funds would need to do directly to restorative actions that offset the action being taxed.

      The great thing about this overall system is that all other programs would be eliminated. Along with their associated bureaucracy and political maneuvering. No more departments of ag or housing, no more social security, medicare, medicaid, no more farm programs or unemployment insurance, no more miles of tax code with special treatment for people because of political influence, no more byzantine system which is so opaque that no body can comprehend how it works. Not even the people who write it. Voters can actually make fairly clear decisions on so basic items that we can all see and understand. Do you want to raise the consumption tax to raise the minimum income or pay for a new war someplace you have never heard of?

      The hardest part of applying a system that makes sense is how many people are committed to the status quo. There are massive industries which depend on the fact money flows out of government for their livelihood. It is a system that does away with the influence of almost all special interest groups so would have an uphill battle for sure.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/01/2016 - 09:00 pm.

      Back at yah!

      Folks on the left? Is this a fact? Sorry, from the far right of the left “Disagreement”
      Jimmy Carter had a book some 20-30 years ago where he wrote about a local county supervisor and political strong arm, that would hand deliver welfare checks, the message was, these welfare checks come form me, you don’t vote for me, guess what? Point is corruption is everywhere big to small. Did you catch 60 Minutes last night!
      Sorry no silver bullets here, only in Werewolf movies and the Lone Ranger’s 6 shooters.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/02/2016 - 12:49 pm.

        As Dan said

        “I really believe that allowing a good amount of diversity in state and local systems is a good idea. Feds should be a final authority on maintaining individual rights but isn’t very good at micro-managing behavior or regular-managing projects unless they are truly national in scale.”

        I agree.

      • Submitted by Dan Berg on 02/02/2016 - 04:53 pm.

        It is driven by the system and not parties

        No silver bullet and I nobody suggested it. The items discussed would be far from easy to implement given all the gored ox that would be left scattered around. It is a system that allows politicians or any stripe to provide benefits to some constituents at the cost of others. With that system corruption is a natural and unstoppable byproduct. The more transparent the system is and less power politicians have the less corruption there will be. Simply being elected by semi-popular vote (most eligible voters don’t give a rip because the system is inherently corrupt) does not endow somebody with either wisdom or moral superiority.

        At this point politics is no more intelligent than any other spectator sport or reality show. It is nothing but theater that helps distract people with a veneer of purpose. Just enough to lend the minimum level of authority needed to those elected so they can pay back those who got them there.

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