WORTHINGTON - With an estimated $600 million annual shortfall in the state’s transportation fund, area counties were asked to consider a resolution during their Tuesday morning board meetings regarding a potential gas tax.
Dist. 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, asked for the resolutions as a way to gauge support within his district for a potential 8- to 16-cent-per-gallon gas tax to be dedicated to maintenance and improvements to Minnesota roads.
Commissioners in Nobles, Cottonwood and Murray counties ultimately offered varying degrees of support for the measure, while Rock, Jackson and Pipestone county boards chose to take no position.
Commissioner Gene Metz, chairman of the Nobles County board, said the resolution was developed after he and Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson attended a meeting last week with Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, in which Hamilton was also present.
“(Hamilton) made a request that boards in his district approve a resolution supporting a gas tax,” Metz said. “The agencies are pretty far apart in what is the best source (for funds). The gas tax seems to be the biggest potential.”
It isn’t the only option, though. The resolution outlined other sources of funding, including a sales tax on automobile and truck parts or increasing licensing fees.
“We didn’t want to use the gas tax as the only thing to raise fees,” Metz said.
At Nobles County’s board meeting Tuesday, commissioners unanimously supported a 16-cent-per-gallon hike in the gas tax, which is estimated to generate $480 million for the dedicated transportation fund per year. That’s roughly 80 percent of the current estimated shortfall.
The tax, if ultimately approved by the state, will hit individuals who use the road system. Johnson said for an individual driving a vehicle that gets 30 miles per gallon at 15,000 miles per year, the extra tax would cost them $80. For someone driving a semi tractor-trailer, however, the fee could reach nearly $300 per month, Johnson estimated.
“I don’t think anyone wants to pay 16 cents a gallon extra on gas … but the money has to come from somewhere,” said Commissioner Donald Linssen.
Metz said the state needs some type of user tax that is sustainable, and supporting an increase in the gas tax is “a message from us that we want to get this thing done.”
“In a way, we’re already paying it with at least $100 in premature car repairs,” Metz added. “(State Transportation Commissioner Charlie) Zelle figures it’s closer to $400.”
While Nobles County commissioners favored the gas tax increase, that wasn’t the case in Rock County, where commissioners Tuesday voiced opposition to a gas tax.
Rock County Commissioner Sherri Thompson was the most vocal about the proposal.
“Being border counties, we are not being competitive with our bordering states,” Thompson said Tuesday afternoon. “If we start sending people out of state to purchase their gas, they’re going to purchase other items there. There’s a lot of tax dollars leaving the state - just a lot of money leaving the state. That’s taking away jobs, too.”
Rather than a gas tax increase, Thompson said she would support an increase in license fees to help fund transportation.
“That’s something that will make sure everyone in the state supports (financially),” she said. “Everyone in the state has to purchase that license.”
Cottonwood County Coordinator Kelly Thongvivong said commissioners there Tuesday adopted the gas tax resolution at the 16-cent-per-gallon level. She said the general consensus among board members was that the tax was a worthy thing to do.
“We wanted it stated that all monies generated will remain in the road and bridge fund and will be apportionately distributed to all state highways,” Thongvivong said.
Murray County commissioners also supported the gas tax resolution, but at a rate of 10 cents per gallon.
Christy Riley, Murray County’s Community Relations Coordinator, said board members there “want to send a message to the legislature that we definitely need funding for roads.”
While conceding that a local resolution may be “too late in the game” considering the discussions on the issue taking place this week at the Minnesota Capitol, Riley said commissioners expressed the need to do something.
“(They said) it is expensive, but roads are expensive,” Riley shared. “We need good roads … we need to pay for it somehow. In general, we need to at least start this conversation.”
Jackson County Coordinator Steven Duncan said the resolution didn’t reach him in time to be an agenda item for commissioners serving on that county’s board, but they did discuss the matter.
“At this time, the board is declining to take a position,” Duncan said.
In Pipestone County, Administrator Sharon Hanson said that since the request came from Hamilton, who does not represent Pipestone County, the board didn’t discuss the resolution at its Tuesday meeting.