Report offers road funding ideas

Washington County Engineer Wayne Sandberg
Washington County Engineer Wayne Sandberg

Motorists could be asked to pick up more costs

Motorists could be asked to pay a greater share of the costs of financing state transportation under a series of recommendations in a state advisory committee report presented to the Washington County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

County Engineer Wayne Sandberg spent about 20 minutes explaining the highlights of state Transportation Finance Advisory Committee’s 98-page report titled “Minnesota Moving Ahead: Transportation Funding and Financing For the Next 20 Years.”

Because commissioners received the TFAC report before their meeting, they agreed to hold a workshop in early February to further discuss the report.

Some of the report’s recommendations Sandberg outlined include:

  •  Raising the state gas tax a minimum of 10 cents in the first year with an additional .0156 cents per year for 19 years.
  •  A 10 percent motor vehicle registration fee increase through an adjustment in the multiplier that generates $1.1 billion over 20 years.

Sandberg said the impact for Washington County is an estimated $2 million to $2.5 million state aid increase for county highways and revenue growth.

n Add 0.005 cents to the existing 0.0025 cent transit sales tax in the five-county metro area to generate an estimated $200 million annually. For a $100 purchase, this sales tax would go from 25 cents to 75 cents.

  •  A leased vehicle sales tax that directs $32 million annually to greater Minnesota transit.

Sandberg said this tax brings $1 million to the county. If the leased vehicle tax is expanded for greater Minnesota transit, the county should try to ensure its funding remains.

“We use this money for our roads. This is one to watch for us. It doesn’t reduce the county’s revenue. We want to make sure we don’t lose money,” he said.

  •  Expand the wheelage tax option to all state counties and raising the $5 cap limit.

The county’s current $5 wheelage tax raises almost $1 million annually, Sandberg said. If the cap is lifted, each $5 equals about $980,000 for the county and means less reliance on property taxes for roads, he added.

“This is more of a user fee for paying for roads in Washington County,” he said.

  •  Enable cities and counties to establish transportation improvement districts that could issue special assessments and sell debt and enable local option transportation sales taxes in 80 counties without a referendum.
  •  Expand transit taxing districts in the seven-county metro area and use funds for capital and operating needs.

Sandberg said other committee recommendations include expanding MnPASS; exploring revenue sources such as value capture, toll options and public-private partnerships; monetizing assets to generate revenue, and continue the state’s role in bonding for transportation projects.

“They’re (TFAC) trying to find more creative ways to have users pay for some of it,” Sandberg said about state transportation costs.

Sandberg told commissioners the state panel was given a big task.

“How are we going to fund our transportation system over the next 20 years,” he said. “Current revenues will not allow us to maintain our current infrastructure level.”

Sandberg said the TFAC report estimates the state’s population increasing by almost 900,000 in the next 30 years, with both the metro area and rural regional centers growing. He added that TFAC estimates it will cost Minnesota $21.2 billion to maintain transportation status quo and $50 billion for a “world-class” transportation system.

Sandberg said TFAC’s report concludes that transportation should be a top state priority since it has positive economic development and quality of life impacts; the state must make smart investments with high rates of return; officials and lawmakers must address the transportation funding gap, and the state should pursue private-public partnerships.

“They’re opening new venues, but not removing old ones,” Sandberg said about the committee’s recommendations.

Sandberg told commissioners that some of TFAC’s recommendations would likely be included in Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal released today.

“Now it goes into the political arena,” Sandberg said about the TFAC report.

But he adds that lawmakers probably will not take up most of the transportation advisory panel’s recommendations until the 2014 session.