Minnesota’s Republican legislators propose funding overdue transportation infrastructure work without raising taxes. That sounds good. It is like getting something for nothing. Of course their budget comes up a couple billion dollars short of what we probably need, but if we can get what they want without taxes…well getting something for nothing is better than getting nothing at all, right?
A sizable part of the funding Republicans propose finding comes from existing sales taxes. They would dedicated sales taxes from the purchase of auto parts, car rentals, and car sales to their transportation budget. Again, it sounds good. It is that simple-minded common sense shared among neighbors that even feels good.
(And we wonder why the tax laws in this country are so cumbersome.)
However the problem here should be plain. If you take a dollar from existing revenues to pay for something else without replacing that dollar, whatever is funded by that existing revenue is going to be underfunded. Former governor Tim Pawlenty seemed to think that moving money around was a magical way to recreate funds, but it didn’t work then and it won’t work now. It took Democrats and Democratic Governor Mark Dayton to clean up Pawlenty’s mess.
Minnesota Republicans are numb to progress. They want to lay off still more public workers, eliminate MinnesotaCare, and cut aid to Minneapolis and St. Paul, the state’s largest and most significant social and economic centers. They also want to add more tax cuts, cuts that might give a typical family of four savings of only $500 over two years. That’s less than $5 a week.
The trade off is consequential. Public safety and private commerce depend on quality transportation infrastructure. The daily needs of all Minnesotans to some degree are met directly or indirectly by the means of transportation. Furthermore, Minnesota is on the mend economically, and a strong job-creating public sector investment in transportation deserves public investment. It would build on Minnesota’s economic momentum.
Democrats propose raising the state’s gas tax to raise new funds to cover the new investments. That is both reasonable and smart. The arguments against gas tax — cars are more fuel efficient, electric cars don’t pay, bus riders don’t pay — are bogus. Let me put it this way: Who cares? (And why?) Get it done.
It is true — most definitely — that a gas tax is regressive. In an era when poorer and middle class Americans carry an unfavorable economic burden compared with those most fortunate, this is a clear disadvantage. However, the benefits — and the needs — leave few other options. Certainly Republicans would not consider other taxes. Americans don’t pay the real cost of driving anyway. The Democrat plan closes the gap between the costs and what is paid to some degree.
If Minnesota is serious about addressing its infrastructure issues, the plans proposed by the Democrats is the best solution. What the state’s Republicans propose relies on unwise and unnecessary cuts to state government and the services the state provides.