No more excuses; transportation infrastructure funding demands action
By Doug Loon, Charlie Weaver, Tim Worke, John Raines, Todd Pufahl and Glen Johnson
Originally Published in the Star Tribune Friday, January 13, 2017
This is a tumultuous time in our state and nation. Many Minnesotans are increasingly frustrated with our political process and the lack of progress on critical issues. Like them, we believe that in Minnesota, we can and should do better. We need to put our differences aside and find common ground to get important things done.
Long-term transportation infrastructure funding is one issue where this can and should happen in the 2017 legislative session. Our elected leaders have repeatedly kicked the can down the road in recent years, while our infrastructure has continued to deteriorate and the cost to fix it has gone up. Both parties share responsibility for inaction, and both have too eagerly played the political blame game.
That is not acceptable, to any of us, anymore. Business and labor do not always agree, but there’s no disagreement between us when it comes to support for a logical, fair and responsible compromise that will substantially address our long-term transportation infrastructure needs.
The Legislature and the governor should enact a long-term transportation infrastructure funding plan early in the 2017 session that has the following components:
• All transportation-related taxes currently being collected in the general fund should be dedicated to transportation infrastructure (biggest issue being sales tax on auto parts and rental cars).
• Projects must be delivered efficiently. More must be done for less.
• Use trunk highway and general obligation bonding to support investment in our transportation infrastructure.
• Innovative public/private project funding allowed and encouraged.
• Depreciation schedule adjusted for passenger vehicle license tab fees.
• Metro counties allowed to lead in funding the buildout and operation of the metro transit system that is outside the network of regular bus routes.
If our approach is implemented, around $6 billion will be available to start to address our transportation infrastructure needs in the next 10 years. We recognize our proposal isn’t perfect, and it will not solve all of our infrastructure problems. But it will make a sizable, sustained investment at a time when the long-term commitment of additional resources is desperately needed.
Some will say it doesn’t go far enough and will advocate for large, new tax increases. Others will cry foul at directing money from the state’s general fund to transportation infrastructure. We expect and welcome debate and are interested in other good ideas. But we cannot let that debate be used to sidetrack and politicize the issue and stop anything from happening.
Hundreds of thousands of families across Minnesota who rely on good-paying construction jobs deserve a future. Our best and brightest companies that depend on quality infrastructure to do business in our state require a solution. Thousands of small-business owners who make their living building this state need some certainty if they are to survive.
Everyone in Minnesota depends on our transportation system. Transportation infrastructure is a core function of government, one of the few things the Minnesota Constitution specifically says government must provide for the people. A sound and dependable transportation network touches every citizen.
Our elected leaders must put their differences aside to solve this problem. The time for excuses and political gamesmanship is over.
Doug Loon is president, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Charlie Weaver is executive director, Minnesota Business Partnership. Tim Worke is CEO, Associated General Contractors of Minnesota. John Raines is executive secretary-treasurer, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. Todd Pufahl is president, Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. Glen Johnson is business manager-financial secretary, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49.