Friday, September 22, 2006

About to be Taken For a Ride

There’s a Constitutional amendment on the ballot in Minnesota this year that will force all taxes received from the sale of vehicles and fuels to transportation spending. Right now, only 53% of such tax revenue goes towards transportation. It has wide support, based on the very real perception that the roads need a lot of work.

But there are always devils in the details. The amendment would force the state to spend no less than 40% of such revenues on “transit” and not more than 60% on roads.

This verbiage presents a problem. Theoretically, all the money could be budgeted for light rail and none for roads. Also, the amendment assumes that 40% of those funds can, at all times, be spent more wisely on mass transit than on roads. This, of course, is preposterous. Mass transit has a way of being a money pit. Rare is the system that meets ridership expectations while staying within projected costs. But under this amendment, that 40% of cash just might HAVE to be spent on a possible boondoggle rather than repair or build a needed road. A Constitution shouldn't require bad spending.

Not to mention there could be a ‘balance’ problem of spending in the metro area vs. ‘outstate’ Minnesota. Where else are you going to spend mass transit dollars besides in and around the Twin Cities?

We also can’t forget about the 47% of affected funds that will no longer go into the general fund. There are sound arguments to be made for dedicating vehicle and fuel taxes to transportation. I tend to favor that myself. But if that money will no longer go to the general fund it will have to come from somewhere. Will my gas tax be lowered while income tax is raised by an equivalent amount? Quite frankly, I smell an excuse for raising taxes further on down the road (no pun intended) with no offset elsewhere.

The proposed amendment is a good idea in a bad and near permanent package.

I’m voting ‘No.’

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