28.2.08

Pothole Pawlenty's Petulant Pique

A lot has gone down since we last checked in with Pothole Pawlenty, and it looks like some potholes might be filled. (So long, potholes!)

As I'm sure you know, the legislature over-rode a gubernatorial veto, fulfilling a reneged promise to use a gas tax to raise money for transportation infrastructure, and ending years of stalemates over funding for roads and transit projects in the state. (And the MN GOP was not happy about it, either!)

The actual package that was passed was a bit larger than previous years' incarnations. It includes:
  • A 8.5 cent tax on gas, all of it constitutionally devoted to roads, putting Minnesota almost equal with Wisconsin in terms of the tax on gas, and (by my really, really rough calculations) raising the total amount of money spent on roads by something like 40%
  • Raised registration fees on cars and licenses, most especially on luxury vehicles (and I'm not sure where this money goes . . .)
  • A metro-wide quarter point sales tax devoted entirely to transit funding
All in all, it will raise about six and a half billion dollars . . . and I think that's measured over the next ten years. And most excitingly, the transit portion of the package will amount to at least 1/6 of the total (though half of the originally drafted amount). That's a pretty good ratio!

In a way, these last few days I've been feeling sad for the potholes. Potholes are like speedbumps, only backwards. They serve the same purpose, though: they make cars slow down. And under Pothole Pawlenty's transportation department, we were installing a lot of them every year. Entire streets would have their speed limits infrastructurally lowered to 25 mph. Entire interstates would fall in the river! (Accomplishing in a moment what it took cities like Boston and San Francisco years to pull off...)

In a way, I'm a huge advocate of the Governor's transportation plan . . . kind of the automotive equivalent of Grover Norquist's bathtub. But the downside to Pothole Pawlenty 's peevish project has always been that it didn't invest in anything as an alternative either. The bus system has been constantly cut for his tepid two terms (including a huge cut about four years ago), even as ridership has reached twenty five-year highs, even as the environmental need for transit becomes ever clearer.

Part of the problem with the transit system then and now has been its lack of a 'dedicated' funding source, i.e. some sort of consistent stream of revenue that would support transit without the kinds of bi-annual political negotiations that turn transit into an expendable political football. And I think, finally, this new transportation bill might finally give Twin Cities' transit a good start on that dedicated stream.

Of course, other U.S. cities (like Denver, Colorado) have successfully passed entire one cent metro sales taxes to fund transit . . . but that's another story. And yet another story is the the simple fact that sales and gas taxes are regressive, disproportionately hitting the poor. Minnesota had long had an emphasis on the income tax, which is progressive . . . until Pothole Pawlenty pranced past pounding pavement.


[Phase One of the State of Minnesota Neighborhood Walkability Improvement and Mississippi River Access Initiative]

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