Originally published in the StarTribune on 12/18/18
James Lenfestey may have his opinion (“Minnesota … must consider rural areas,” Dec. 11), but he is not entitled to his own facts or misleading half-truths. Before we rush into an economy-crushing “long overdue 25-cent-per gallon increase” in Minnesota’s gas tax, let’s consider some actual facts.
Lenfestey echoes the standard liberal line that gas taxes have not “kept up with inflation.” That’s about 40 percent right — because in Minnesota, funding for our roads and bridges does not come exclusively from the gas tax. Our revenue comes from the Highway User Distribution Fund (HUDF), which includes not only gas tax revenue, but also tab fees and sales taxes on your vehicle. For Budget Year 2019, over 60 percent of the revenue will come from outside the gas tax.
And guess what? Those fees you pay each year are a percentage of your vehicle’s value, which does keep up with inflation. Actually, it more than keeps up with inflation. Using the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s own numbers and projecting out through fiscal year 2028, Minnesota will outpace inflation in the HUDF by over 32 percent. Don’t believe me? Feel free to check for yourself on the department’s website.
Next, Lenfestey references “growing numbers of solar farms” as the panacea for our energy future. Currently, we pay approximately $120-$140 per megawatt hour for energy we capture from community solar gardens (CSGs). To put that in context, we pay around $40-$50 a megawatt hour for larger industrial solar energy, and only $7-$9 a megawatt hour for carbon-fueled and wind-powered sources. How can anyone conclude that more CSGs (or industrial solar for that matter) is an answer to our transportation needs, knowing the costs?
Lastly, the author laments (or feels guilty about) not paying his “fair share” to help pay for roads and bridges, proposing a brand-new tax for electric vehicle owners. The truth is, they already pay.
Remember those pesky sales taxes and tab fees I mentioned earlier? Electric vehicles are double to triple the price of a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle. Don’t you think that has a significant impact on the sales tax they pay, much less the annual tab fees? If you own a Tesla Model 3 (base price around $50,000-$60,000) vs. a comparable Chevy Impala (base around $25,000-$35,000), you will find the Tesla owner will pay around 33 percent more for their tabs, each year. All that money goes into the HUDF, paying for those roads and bridges we all use.
In the last budget, Republicans passed the largest investment in road and bridge infrastructure in state history without a gas tax increase, so our transportation system has the investment it needs for years to come. The Legislature invested $300 million in new, ongoing funding for roads, bridges and buses, with an additional $256 million in one-time transportation funding. We also provided $45 million in special funding for road and bridge projects in small towns and cities. With this new permanent funding, the HUDF will outpace inflation by over $100 million in the next decade.
What’s the bottom line? We can provide transportation funding in Minnesota without raising taxes. We just need to focus the resources we take from your pocketbook on solutions, not boondoggles.
David Osmek, R-Mound, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.