This report isn't a roadtrip report but instead is a response to a series of articles about a 10-year transportation funding proposal from Minnesota's Governer Pawlenty, proposed at the end of 2004.  I posted this on December 23, 2004.

MN Governer proposes 10-year transportation funding plan - Governer's Office press release - MnDOT webpage on the proposal (since the Lt. Governer also serves as MnDOT Commissioner) - StarTribune article from today (12/23) on the proposal.

Yesterday, Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty unveiled his "long-range" transportation funding package, which would generate $7.15 billion through 2017. The money comes from two sources:

- $4.5 billion in "funny money" (a term coined in this style by Monte Castleman). This part of the package would offer $4.5 billion in 20-year-bonds to speed up highway projects. The bonds would be paid back by "dedicating less than 50 percent of projected growth over Fiscal Year 2005 levels in gas tax revenue, vehicle registration fees and federal funds for trunk highways through Fiscal Year 2038." (from MnDOT's website). I found the payback scheme somewhat laughable...and I'm not sure yet what impact it would have on the trunk highway fund as a whole, and in the 5-15 year timeframe in particular.

- The remaining $2.65 billion, which would be actual new funding as far as transportation goes, would come from a Constitutional amendment to dedicate the full 100% of the state's Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET...also known as the motor vehicle sales tax) to transportation. Presently, this revenue goes to the state's general fund, and there is a statutory allocation of roughly 32% to highways and roughly 22% to transit, with the remainder getting eaten up in the state's general budget. The Constitutional amendment would dedicate 60% of the MVET to the state's Highway User Tax Distribution Fund (a Constitutional fund which directs highway revenue to trunk highways, county state aid, and municipal state aid), with 40% going to transit (virtually all in the Twin Cities metro, though that's where almost all of the transit need is). Minnesotans would vote on the amendment in 2006, and if passed it would be phased in over 5 years.

I have reservations about the bonding part, but I've been a long-time supporter of a Constitutional amendment to dedicate 100% of the MVET to transportation.  Unlike Pawlenty's other transportation proposals, this one would inject "new money" into transportation. Roughly $4.1 billion would be injected into the state's highway fund through 2030, which would partially mitigate a projected $24.1 billion gap in highway needs funding over that timeframe. A lot more could be done if only the Governor and Lt. Governor could overcome their "no new taxes" mantra.

Since the full MVET would take away from the state's general fund, there have already been cries of foul from one Democrat (cited in the StarTribune story) stating that "we're now going to subsidize transportation with money that now goes to education and health care." I responded by sending letters to both the state Representative in question and the StarTribune pointing out that, under the current system, the opposite is true: transportation (in the form of car buyers) are subsidizing education and health care as their transportation-based revenue (in the form of the MVET) is going to the state general fund for NON-transportation uses.

[Editor's Note:  the MVET Constitutional amendment was passed by voters in the November, 2006 election.  However, it leaves the road/transit funding split open but puts a 60% ceiling on road funding and a 40% floor on transit funding.]

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