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As others see it: It's long past time for transportation funding deal

A transportation funding bill should have been agreed to years ago. The delay has caused the cost of road projects to skyrocket. Take the case of the current Highway 22 project between Mankato and Mapleton.

MnDOT thought it could pave 12 miles from Blue Earth County Road 90 to Mapleton with a quick fix, cheaper mill and overlay project. That involves scraping the old roadway and putting a new layer of blacktop over it. It would have cost about $1.3 million per mile.

But fixing the road has been delayed year after year due to funding shortages. So after further review and inspection, MnDOT determined the road had to be fully reconstructed at a cost of about $1.95 million per mile.

So, the inaction of the Legislature cost taxpayers $650,000 per mile, or about $7 million, on this project alone.

This kind of wasteful spending has apparently not created the urgency needed for sound policy on road funding among the Republican Legislature. Many business groups, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, have pushed for “long-term sustainable” road funding. Greater Mankato Growth has supported this position as well at the urging of its membership.

While these pages have favored a gas tax in the past as the easiest, most efficient and fairest way to pay for roads, it appears the Republican caucus will continue to reject this idea. Not wise, but fair enough. If Republicans continue to reject the gas tax, they must come up with their own long-term, sustainable funding plan that Gov. Mark Dayton is willing to support.

That will be easier said than done.

Senate Republicans want to divert $400 million of general fund money from auto-related sales taxes to road funding and borrow $300 million. So far, the House Republicans want to add a $75 surcharge on electric car owners.

Whatever the Republicans come up with, they have to be cognizant of two critical issues: Doing nothing and coming to no agreement will cost all taxpayers more as roads deteriorate further. Using general fund money will mean something else must be cut, and education is one of the biggest pieces of the pie.

Minnesota Republicans might take a note from Indiana Republicans, who recently passed a 10 cent per gallon increase in that state’s gasoline tax to pay for road needs of about $1 billion per year, roughly the same amount Minnesota needs. Indiana Republicans, whose colleague is former governor and now vice president Mike Pence, actually approved an automatic inflation factor in their gas tax bill.

Republicans brand themselves the party of fiscal responsibility. Letting roads deteriorate further where costs increase exponentially is not fiscal responsibility.

We urge Republicans to lead on this and pass a transportation funding plan that is long-term, sustainable and will fix roads all over the state that are falling further and further into disrepair.

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