Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

This morning’s St. Cloud Times Our View editorial is mostly the type of stuff you’d expect from liberals trying to paint themselves as moderates. There is a section, though, that’s clearly liberal:

Now is the time to (pardon the pun) pave the middle ground between DFL and Republican proposals to stabilize long-term transportation funding.

Dayton’s plan does the most because it spends the most by correctly getting users of the state’s transportation system to pay more in gas taxes. Never willing to raise taxes, House Republicans would rather shift general-fund money into transportation. That’s a bad idea because the next Legislature could shift it back based on its funding priorities.

Instead, Dayton should accept a smaller gas-tax hike to a level that more closely aligns with Republican spending targets. Oh, and just call it a user fee.

I hope the Republicans immediately reject the Times’ proposal. The Times editorial board will rationalize their opinion on the faulty theory that compromise is automatically the right thing. It isn’t. Principled compromise isn’t the wrong thing. Compromise for compromise sake is foolish.

First, I’d argue that We The People should come first. It’s clear that the vast majority of Minnesotans a) prefer fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges and b) don’t want to get hit with another tax increase. That means that the DFL would deserve the political nightmare they’d get in if they tried undoing the GOP transportation plan.

Next, I’d argue that it’s foolish to think that the DFL is interested in good faith negotiations regarding transportation. Move MN, the DFL front group that’s campaigning for a $13,000,000,000 tax increase, has consistently talked about Minnesota’s roads and bridges during their TV and radio interviews. The minute they’re off the air, though, they’re lobbying legislators for raising the sales tax on people in Washington, Dakota, Carver, Sherburne and Anoka counties to pay for transit projects that benefit Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

There’s nothing fair about that. It’s a major rip-off that benefits the DFL’s political base by taxing people more closely aligned with Republicans. If Hennepin and Ramsey counties want increased transit projects, let them pay for those projects. It’s immoral to force people to pay for things that a) they don’t benefit from and b) others benefit from.

There’s another flaw with the Times’ thinking. They say that “the next Legislature could shift it back based on its funding priorities,” which is true. What the Times isn’t taking into account is that people can let the DFL know that they’ll pay a steep political price if they get rid of the Republicans’ plan while replacing it with a plan that’s already been tried and failed.

If we implemented the Republicans’ plan and it fixed Minnesota’s roads and bridges, why wouldn’t the Times praise the Republicans’ plan? Further, why wouldn’t the Times criticize the DFL if they tried getting rid of a transportation plan that’s working?

Finally, Republicans should utterly reject the DFL plan in the strongest words possible because it’s been tried before and failed miserably. Compromising with people who’ve proposed terrible policies isn’t a virtue. It’s stupidity.

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Friday night on Almanac’s Roundtable, Republican lobbyist Brian McDaniel suggested that Republicans should give into the DFL’s transportation tax increases in exchange for other tax relief. First, that’s defeatist thinking. Next, it’s betraying the trust between the people of Minnesota and the Republican Party. Third, it’s terrible policy.

Caving on the DFL’s plethora of transportation tax increases means caving on a fight Minnesotans want Republicans to win. The latest KSTP-SurveyUSA poll showed 75% of Minnesotans supporting the GOP plan of not raising transportation taxes. That poll showed only 18% of Minnesotans supporting the DFL’s transportation tax increases. That’s because Minnesotans of all political stripes oppose transportation tax increases. I’m certain that people that vehemently oppose a transportation tax increase wouldn’t support a $13,000,000,000 transportation tax increase.

Minnesotans spoke clearly in that poll on what they don’t want in this year’s transportation plan. They didn’t speak with timidity. They spoke with clarity and conviction. It’s impossible to mistake the message they sent. To their credit, Republicans put together a plan that Minnesotans called for. They said no to the DFL’s transportation tax increases. Republicans said no to tax increases that increase funding for transit projects that serve hundreds of people a day.

Republicans said yes to a new plan that will work. Republicans said yes to stable transportation funding. They said yes to the Transportation Stability Fund. Unlike the DFL’s failed Transportation Bill of 2008, the Transportation Stability Fund will fund Minnesota’s priorities.

Let’s remember that the DFL promised that the DFL’s Transportation Bill of 2008 would fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges for the next quarter century. Instead, the DFL Transportation Bill of 2008 failed within 5 years. Why would anyone trust the DFL with a history of failure like that?

Minnesotans want their roads widened and their potholes filled. They aren’t imploring politicians to fund more light rail projects. It’s time that Republicans totally reject the DFL’s plan. Compromise is the right response when multiple plans have something positive to contribute to the problem. There’s nothing in the DFL plan that fixes Minnesota’s potholed roads. The chief feature in the DFL’s plan is the DFL’s latest attempt to lift Minnesotans’ wallets.

Voting for a plan that doesn’t fix Minnesota’s roads or fill Minnesota’s potholes isn’t compromise. It’s total capitulation.

It’s time Republicans highlighted the fact that the DFL’s transportation policies have failed before. Republicans should remind people of that fact dozens of times a day. In fact, what House and Senate Republicans should do is tell vulnerable DFL members that they’ll target vulnerable DFL legislators in swing districts if they vote for a transportation plan that includes a transportation tax increase.

It’s time Republicans kept their promises. Further, it’s time Republicans went on the offensive. It’s time the DFL paid a high political price for their failed policies. That time is right now.

Gov. Dayton’s attention to detail is inspiring. What other governor would pay attention to umlautless road signs late in the budget session? Here’s what I’m talking about:

Gov. Dayton didn’t know that the Vikings stadium bill had a provision in it that allowed the Wilfs to sell personal seat license but Gov. Dayton knows that the Lindstrom highway sign doesn’t have the proper umlauting.

Gov. Dayton didn’t know that the 2013 Tax Bill that he negotiated with the DFL legislative leaders included a sales tax on farm equipment repairs but he’s ordered the umlautless signs to be fixed ASAP. Minnesotans will sleep easier tonight knowing that Gov. Dayton’s attention to detail is unsurpassed:

In a new executive order issued Wednesday, Dayton demanded his state’s transportation authority “reinstate the use of umlauts on roadway signage, when appropriate.”

“Nonsensical rules like this are exactly why people get frustrated with government,” Dayton said in an accompanying statement. Dayton said he was inspired by the troubles faced by the relatively small city of Lindström, which bills itself as “America’s Little Sweden.” “Even if I have to drive to Lindström, and paint the umlauts on the city limit signs myself, I’ll do it,” Dayton vowed in his clearly emotional statement.

That’s stunning. Getting upset because road signs don’t have umlauts where they’re appropriate isn’t just a little deranged. That’s a ‘the cheese has slid totally off the cracker’ moment. Not everyone agrees with me, which is stunning by itself:

Business Insider reached out to Lindström City Hall for comment on the executive order. City Administrator John Olinger applauded the governor’s change, which he said would allow local signage to better reflect the city’s history.

At least someone other than Gov. Dayton will sleep better tonight thanks to Gov. Dayton taking decisive action.

The DFL is opposed to not raising every Minnesotan’s taxes. The Dayton-DFL transportation plan would impose a tax increase on everyone who owns a vehicle. It would also impose a tax increase on everyone in the 7-county metro area via a sales tax increase. The 7-county sales tax increase is collected from anyone buying things in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties. The sales tax revenue collected, however, mainly gets funneled into transit projects in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

The Move MN plan isn’t focused. It wants to raise taxes on everyone to pay for this list of items:

Any plan that prioritizes everything doesn’t prioritize anything.

Minnesotans are imploring politicians to fix their roads and fill their potholes. The Republican plan focuses their attention on that. In fact, the Republican plan essentially told transit lobbyists that they’re on their own. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but it isn’t an outrageous oversimplification.

If I polled Minnesotans what they wanted their money spent on this session, bike trails and pedestrian infrastructure wouldn’t break the top 25 items. It just isn’t a priority. It wouldn’t be surprising if that same imaginary poll found that transit projects in the 7-county metro area would be a priority for a plurality of voters in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

Predictably, the DFL is outraged by the Republicans’ plan. It’s predictable because Republicans listened to Minnesotans’ priorities while the DFL listened to transportation lobbyists. The DFL opposes redirecting the sales taxes away from the general fund.

The question Minnesotans should ask DFL legislators is straightforward. Why should taxes collected on vehicles and auto parts not be part of the solution for fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges? Another question that would be appropriate to ask is why those sales taxes are being directed at anything from funding corrupt organizations like Community Action of Minneapolis to funding MnSCU’s Central Office to paying for outrageous pay raises for Gov. Dayton’s commissioners.

Follow this link for more on this subject.

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In Gov. Dayton’s State of the State Address, Gov. Dayton talked about the Civil War, then changing the topic to a thinly-veiled reference to transportation:

We are not being called upon to make such extreme sacrifices. Yet, during the remaining six weeks of this legislative session, we will face our own moments of truth: Will we do what is easy, safe, and popular; or will we risk our political lives to preserve this great state for future generations?

In mid-February, Survey USA conducted a poll on which party’s transportation plan Minnesotans preferred. Here’s what they said:

Governor Dayton proposes a sales tax on gasoline, higher driver’s license registration fees. and a higher general sales tax in the 7-county Minneapolis metro area to raise $6 billion over 10 years for new highways, bridges and mass transit. Do you approve or disapprove? Asked of 525 registered voters. Margin of sampling error for this question = ± 4.4%

43% Approve, 51% Disapprove, 6% Not Sure

House Republicans propose spending $750-million on highways and bridges over four years by using some of the state’s budget surplus and other existing funds without raising taxes. Do you approve or disapprove? Asked of 525 registered voters. Margin of sampling error for this question = ± 3.8%

75% Approve, 17% Disapprove, 8% Not Sure

Since that poll was taken, Republicans published their full 10-year proposal. The Republicans’ plan invests $7,000,000,000 in fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges. Clearly, the Republicans’ plan is more popular, which is why Gov. Dayton talked about doing “what is easy, safe and popular” vs. passing the mildly unpopular Dayton-DFL transportation plan. (It’s mildly unpopular in that it’s only slightly underwater in its approval.)

Don’t be surprised if Tom Bakk pulls the plug on Gov. Dayton’s plan. With the Senate being up for election in 2016, he won’t want to force his senators to take too many controversial votes. Sen. Bakk knows how to read a poll. There’s no way he reads the KSTP-SurveyUSA poll and thinks he can enthusiastically support Gov. Dayton’s plan.

Predicting how Sen. Bakk reacts to Gov. Dayton’s transportation bill is speculation. Still, it’s difficult to picture Sen. Bakk walking Gov. Dayton’s plank.

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In a stunning development, the DFL has promised it’ll never raise the gas tax again to fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges. Let the parsing begin. Actually, the DFL didn’t make that promise this session. That’s what they promised in 2007-08. Back then, Sen. Steve Murphy, then-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, promised that passing a nickel-per-gallon gas tax increase would be the only tax increase they’d need to fix “Minnesota’s crumbling roads and bridges” for the next 25 years.

Just 7 years later, Gov. Dayton is back, insisting that “Minnesota’s crumbling roads and bridges” require a 6.5% wholesale gas tax increase. The DFL and Move MN support Gov. Dayton’s plan. This time, they aren’t promising this will be the last tax increase they’ll ask for to fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges. Instead, this is what the DFL is saying to rationalize their latest tax increase:

“I don’t relish having to raise the revenues needed to start fixing 25 years of deterioration and deficiencies in Minnesota’s transportation system,” Dayton said.

It’s interesting that Gov. Dayton totally ignored the $6.6 billion tax increase the DFL imposed on Minnesotans in 2008 in the name of fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges. It isn’t surprising but it’s definitely interesting.

What’s really happening is that the DFL is settling an old promise with their transportation special interest lobbyists. Their transit activists expected to get paid when Mark Dayton was governor and the DFL had majorities in the House and Senate. It’s likely that the DFL’s transit activists were told that an income tax increase and extending the sales tax to farm equipment repairs and warehousing services were the DFL’s highest priorities.

It’s likely that they were told they’d be first up on the tax increase list in this session. Clearly, they didn’t expect the House Republican majority to tell the transit activists to get their money from the local communities where the LRT corridors run through.

That’s the worst possible news for transit activists because it’s tougher for city councilmembers to justify raising taxes for transit projects.

Republicans shouldn’t consider raising the gas tax this year. First, it’s a proven failure. The DFL will be back in just a few years for another tax increase because this tax increase, they’ll say, wasn’t enough. (It never is.) The difference the next time they ask for a tax increase, they’ll be able to say that Republicans better vote for this one because they voted for the last one.

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Dan Wolgamott’s editorial in this morning’s St. Cloud Times sounds like he’s running against John Pederson, mostly because it sounds like he’s Tom Bakk’s puppet. Check these chanting points out:

Our roads are aging, the congestion is getting worse and our state is falling behind on delivering the vibrant transportation options we need. We feel the bumps in our pothole-filled roads and the hit in our wallets with vehicle repairs.

It’s time for us to invest in our roads and bridges, which is why St. Cloud needs better leadership than State Sen. John Pederson. As made clear in two recent articles in the St. Cloud Times, Pederson has some thoughts on the state’s transportation network. As the Republican lead on the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee, he could play a vital role in providing St. Cloud the comprehensive transportation investment we need.

Instead, Sen. Pederson backs a plan that not only shifts money away from our schools and services for our most vulnerable residents, but relies heavily on borrowing for our roads and bridges, putting the costs on the state’s credit card. This plan depends on action to be taken by future legislatures. However, there is no guarantee future legislatures will make those decisions. Instead of stability, this is another example of politicians promising something in the future to justify ducking their responsibilities now.

I won’t waste my time refuting the DFL’s chanting points because I’ve already done that. Instead, I’ll pose these simple questions:

  1. Do you want the legislature to raise the gas tax that won’t fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges?
  2. Do you want the DFL to raise the metro sales tax to pay for light rail projects that don’t help fix roads and bridges?
  3. Would you prefer that Republicans create a new fund that focuses exclusively on fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges?

I’m betting that the vast majority of people reading this post will pick the option that focuses exclusively on fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges. I’m betting that because few people care about new light rail projects. I’m betting that because most people care passionately about fixing Minnesota’s potholed roads.

We know that the DFL plan won’t work because it was tried in 2008. The DFL’s transportation plan is the same now as it was then. That plan failed. Why would we repeat that plan and expect different results? Einstein famously said that doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

The GOP plan learned from the DFL’s failed plan of 2008. Shortly after the 2008 tax increase, revenue didn’t come in like it was predicted. The DFL figured it out that more people are buying more fuel efficient vehicles, meaning less gas tax revenue. Then the DFL doubled down on their failed plan of 2008.

Republicans, though, figured it out that a different funding mechanism was needed. That’s why the Republican plan creates a Transportation Stability Fund that “collects existing proceeds from dedicated tax revenues and deposits them into accounts for each of their dedicated purpose.

There are five accounts that would dedicate a combined $3.078 billion over ten years:

  1. Road and Bridge Account: revenue from existing sales tax on auto parts
  2. Metro Capital Improvements Account: revenue from existing sales tax on rental vehicles
  3. Small Cities Account: revenue from existing rental vehicle tax
  4. Greater Minnesota Bus Services Account: revenue from 50% of existing Motor Vehicle Lease sales tax
  5. Suburban County Highway Account: revenue from 50% of existing Motor Vehicle Lease sales tax

In addition to the dedicated funds provided by the Transportation Stability Fund, the Road and Bridge Act of 2015 uses $1.3 billion in Trunk Highway bonds, $1.2 billion from realigning Minnesota Department of Transportation resources, $1.05 billion in General Obligation bonds, and $228 million in General Funds.Mr. Wolgamott’s LTE reads like Move MN’s chanting points. We don’t need another robot supporting the DFL’s failed policies. It also reads like the LTE a candidate seeking Sen. Pederson’s senate seat.

That’s quite a shift considering he ran for Tama Theis’s House seat in 2014.

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Harlan Madsen’s op-ed for Move MN in Monday morning’s St. Cloud Times fits Move MN’s habits perfectly. I first wrote about Move MN’s deceptions in this post. This is content from Move MN’s website:

We are calling on the Minnesota Legislature to pass a comprehensive transportation funding solution in 2015 that requires additional transparency and efficiency for current resources.

  1. Be comprehensive to address, roads, bridges, transit, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
  2. Equitably balance the transportation needs of Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area.
  3. Be a long-term, sustainable funding solution that is gimmick-free and dedicated only to fixing transportation.

It’s pretty straightforward. Move MN’s website is filled with talk about bike paths, transit projects and “pedestrian infrastructure.” Their op-eds, though, are all about fixing roads and bridges:

Local roads account for 38 percent of transportation funding. For every dollar dedicated to Minnesota’s highway trust fund, 38 cents is directed to the statewide network of county, city and township roads. That means every new dollar we invest in transportation repairs our local roads too.

Semitrailerfreight traffic is going to multiply on our highways in the next 10 years. Over the next 10 years, freight being moved on Minnesota’s roads is projected to increase by 30 percent. That means more traffic, more wear and tear on our roads.

More than 300 Minnesotans lose their lives on our roads every year. Whether you drive, bike or walk, Minnesota’s roadways still remain a dangerous place. Unfortunately, some of the most simple fixes like median barriers and rumble strips are left unfunded.

Move MN’s op-eds wouldn’t be complete without this type of advocacy:

The task force concluded that without new, sustainable and dedicated funding, our roads and bridges will continue to crumble at an alarming rate; our statewide transit systems will be unable to meet growing demands; and our economy will ultimately suffer from our inability to efficiently move goods, services and people to their next destination.

Move MN clearly isn’t interested in telling the whole truth. The House Republican plan includes a new way of funding road and bridge repairs. The House GOP plan includes a Transportation Stability Fund, which is funded by dedicating the sales tax already paid by auto parts sales, rental cars and leased vehicles. Leased vehicles and rental cars produce wear and tear on highways, roads and bridges. Why shouldn’t those sales taxes be dedicated to fixing roads and bridges?

A Move MN op-ed wouldn’t be complete without this:

Because of decades of delays and inconsistent funding, the poor quality of our roads has caught up to us.

First, the DFL raised transportation taxes in 2008. Back then, Steve Murphy was asked why he was trying to hid lots of tax increases in his bill. Here’s his epic answer:

“I’m not trying to fool anybody,” said Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing…”There’s a lot of taxes in this bill.”

We were told then that that tax increase would fix things. Except that it didn’t. Eight years later, the DFL is telling us that another tax increase, this time twice as big as the 2008 tax increase was, is needed. You’ll forgive me if I think the DFL is lying through their teeth again.

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I wish I could say that I’m surprised that the St. Cloud Times Editorial Board is recommending Republicans cave into the DFL’s transportation plan:

Finally and fortunately, Minnesotans have enough details from legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton to weigh in on what they want for transportation funding statewide in the next 10 years.

House Republicans this week put forth their proposal, which spends $7 billion through tapping the state surplus, borrowing, increased efficiencies and spending general-fund money now used in other state programs. It’s unclear which programs would be cut, but it amounts to $3 billion in 10 years. The plan does not raise taxes. It also does much less for public transit than Dayton’s plan.

I can’t dispute the fact that the Republicans’ plan doesn’t do much for “public transit.” I can’t deny it because it’s designed not to do much for “public transit.” The GOP plan tells the Met Council that it’s responsible for metro transit.

That’s only fair because light rail isn’t a big thing in outstate Minnesota. If the Twin Cities wants light rail, let the Twin Cities fund that.

Here are some suggestions to make this much-needed initiative a reality by session’s end in mid-May:

New revenues (also known as taxes and user fees) are more forthright and stable than funding shifts (aka cutting other programs.) Higher taxes and fees, which admittedly nobody likes, clearly identify who will pay them. Shifting $3 billion from unidentified state programs not only creates unintended consequences for residents with no stake in transportation, but future legislators could easily trump these choices, further delaying much-needed improvements.

Contrary to Rep. Thissen’s spin, there aren’t any funding shifts in the Republicans’ transportation plan. The Republicans’ plan proposes dedicating the sales tax on auto parts, car rentals and car leases for fixing roads and bridges. Those existing taxes would be part of the Transportation Stability Fund.

In the latest KSTP-SurveyUSA poll, 75% of Minnesotans said that they didn’t want a tax increase to be part of the transportation plan. Republicans shouldn’t cave on this. If the DFL wants to fight an election over this, I’d just tell the DFL that we’re willing to fight that fight anytime anywhere.

Compromise isn’t necessarily a virtue. Doing what the vast majority of people want is a virtue.

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Yesterday, I wrote that Rep. Thissen reflexively criticized the Republicans’ transportation proposal. This post will show how Sen. Bakk’s math doesn’t add up. Here’s what Sen. Bakk said about the Republican transportation plan:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL- Cook, said constitutionally-dedicated funding, like the gas tax, is a better approach for transportation. Bakk said the House Republican plan to use general fund revenue could too easily be undone by the next Legislature.

“There’s just no guarantee that roads and public infrastructure are going to continue to be a priority once you’ve put them in the mix of having to compete with everything in the state budget,” Bakk said. “I think it’s unlikely that transportation competes in that environment in the next budget cycle.”

First, the DFL essentially raised the gas tax unilaterally in 2008. That tax, we were told, would solve our problems. I wrote this post in 2008. It turns out that that “constitutionally-dedicated funding” plan didn’t fix anything, which proves that Sen. Bakk is full of it.

Why trust a guy who promised a solution that didn’t work the last time? It’s foolish to trust people who’ve failed us before. That’s what Bakk did. There’s also no reason to trust Sen. Bakk, especially after he said that “There’s just no guarantee that roads and public infrastructure are going to continue to be a priority once you’ve put them in the mix of having to compete with everything in the state budget.”

Under the GOP plan, those sales taxes on lease vehicles, auto parts and car rentals wouldn’t be part of the general fund. They’d be part of the Transportation Stability Fund. The only way that changes is if the DFL would vote to take money out of that fund to pay for other things that they want.

If Republicans hold their House majority and retake their majority in the Senate, they could put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2018. If that passed, then the Transportation Stability Fund would become constitutionally dedicated fund.

Finally, beyond Sen. Bakk’s shaky math, it’s shameful that the DFL is ignoring their constituents. According to KSTP’s latest poll, 75% of Minnesotans oppose raising the gas tax. What part of that doesn’t the DFL understand? Perhaps the better question is this: Does the DFL care what their constituents want? I’m not certain they do. At minimum, I haven’t seen proof that they care about their constituents, though there’s tons of proof they care about their special interest allies.

In fact, there’s ample proof that that’s all the DFL cares about.

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