MnDOT Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle needs to fill a $12 billion gap over the next 20 years. The most common question he's asked: "Can it be done without raising fees or taxes?" He stopped by The Mankato Free Press for an interview.

2 minute read

November 30, 2013, 7:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

Dan Linehan interviewed the former CEO of the bus company Jefferson Lines who was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to head the Minnesota Department of Transportation in December. His response to the above question was, “I guess I’m here to say you need something." He went on to offer long and short term strategies.

In the long term, Zelle said it is “probably inevitable” that transportation will be funded by a system that charges each driver based on how far he or she travels.

In the shorter term, Zelle said options include relatively simple increases to the gas tax, the motor vehicle registration tax and the motor vehicle sales tax, which together account for 61 percent of the department’s income.

Correspondent's note: "The vehicle sales tax supplies about 38 percent of the money the (Metropolitan) Council needs to operate buses and trains," as noted here in 2009.

As for the "simple" increases to the gas tax, when it was last increased in 2008, it proved anything but simple. It took a legislative override of then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto that proved to have serious political repercussions for the six Republicans who supported the override. 

Professor David Levinson of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota, detailed the consequences to the "override six" in Part 4 of an eight-part bridge series, "The Fall and Rise of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge" for Streets.MN.

The Override Six are Republicans who voted with DFL to override Gov. Pawlenty’s veto of the gas tax bill. Four of them lost their seats due to Primary challenges, while the Republicans lost two of those seats to the DFL in the 2008 General Election. This leads to the rule that voting in favor of a gas tax increase can be dangerous to your political health, if you are a Republican.

Zelle added tolling as another (unpopular) option, or "devote sales tax money to transportation," as Gov. Mark Dayton attempted to do for the Twin Cities in January.

Finally, he offered a political observation repeated here many times. When it comes to transportation, "both parties 'kind of come together on this issue'."

Monday, November 25, 2013 in The Mankato Free Press

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