Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tuesday's Vote May Remove One More Safe Bridge Roadblock

One big roadblock to increased transportation funding has crumbled in the wake of the I-35W bridge collapse. On Tuesday voters in portions of Goodhue, Wabasha and Winona counties will have a chance to clear out another roadblock.

The biggest roadblock to increased transportation funding, Governor Tim Pawlenty, is finally open to increasing the gas tax after vetoing transportation bills two years in a row that contained a gas tax increase. Too bad it took an highway bridge falling down during rush hour to change his mind.

The question is: have the other roadblocks to safer roads and bridges changed their minds? If you remember, the last transportation bill passed with enough votes to overcome a Pawlenty veto. But when it was time to override that veto, several (mostly Republican) legislators bailed. The DFL is still several votes short of a veto-proof majority in the House. On Tuesday voters in House District 28B will decide if they want a vote for or against future transportation funding bills.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of need, Republican 28B candidate Steve Drazkowski continues to indicate on his website that he is against a gas tax:
Transportation: A gas tax increase would cripple the economy in House District 28B. Families and businesses are struggling with today’s high gas prices, and raising the gas tax would exacerbate the problem. Steve supports the Governor’s plan to bond for $1.7 Billion in road improvements and to pay the bonds back with the constitutionally-dedicated motor vehicle sales taxes that are currently collected from Minnesotans.

Steve favors using the $250 million surplus to help counties repair and improve roads. He would move to devote all road- related state fees to road projects. Steve will work for transportation funding that keeps locally generated transportation taxes working on projects right here, rather than exporting them to the metro area.
The bonding plan that Drazkowski cites is actually more expensive than just raising the gas tax because bonded money is borrowed money. And borrowed money comes with an interest rate. As far as keeping transportation money local, if every county did that our rural counties would have incredibly poor transportation infrastructure since most of that money is raised from taxes in the metro areas.

His opponent in Tuesday's special election, DFLer Linda Pfeilsticker, says she is open to a gas tax increase. She writes:
"My stance on transportation funding has been very constant. We need to look at all funding options. Bonding, a gas tax, and other sources of revenue all must be explored so we can pass a quality transportation bill that addresses our transportation issues and is financially responsible."
Note that Pfeilsticker leaves all funding options open. That's probably a good idea since even Minnesota's Transportation Commissioner/ Lt. Governor Carol Molnau admits that the gas tax her boss Governor Pawlenty vetoed would need to be at least three times as high to fix the problem. The gas tax, like all sales taxes is a regressive tax and unfairly burdens the poor. Fixing the problem will mean looking to taxes based on the ability to pay such as the income tax. Drazkowski is against any type of tax increase.

On Tuesday, it appears 28B voters have a pretty clear choice on safe bridges, Pfeilsticker's open mind or Drazkowski's roadblock. Wise voters pick the path to safety with the fewest roadblocks.

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