Thursday, August 09, 2007

The I-35W Bridge, Tax Increases, and Other Food for Thought

The following was written by Minnesota Representative Mark Buesgens (35B), and will be in tomorrow's STRIB:

"In the early evening of Wednesday, August 1st, time virtually stood still for Minnesotans. The astonishment that a bridge on a major interstate highway could simply collapse, coupled with the horror of the unfolding scene has created a memory which will be burned into our psyches for a long, long time.

My first knowledge of the catastrophe came from my son who, with a couple college buddies were about 15 cars from the bridge when it went down. He quickly fired off a message telling me what had happened and that he was alright. When I talked to him later, he somberly told me that he’d seen his first dead body outside of a funeral home.

As we’ve come to expect in this day and age, it didn’t take long for many politicians to spring to the microphones and spew all sorts of rhetoric about caring, compassion and the need to “do something.” We are now hearing a growing chorus of political voices exhorting the Governor to call an emergency special session to deal with this crisis (read: raise taxes). I believe that such a move is ill-advised and that Minnesotans would be better served if our Governor were to reject such a knee-jerk reaction.

A special session would not be a magic wand which would suddenly cure all the woes of our neglected infrastructure. Raising the gas tax in September would not bring in huge amounts of revenue before the legislature is set to reconvene in February. Of course, immediate cash is necessary and the Governor has emergency powers to allocate the necessary revenue from any of the numerous reserve funds that the state has socked away for just such incidents.

The main impediment that has blocked a gas tax increase for almost two decades remains unresolved. Currently, the vast majority of the revenue is raised in the highly populated metro area. However, by our state’s dispensation formula, a majority of that revenue must be spent on infrastructure in the out-state. To realize the amount revenue that some folks are saying is necessary for the metro area, the gas tax would need to be increased dramatically. Given the current economics of gas prices, this is simply unacceptable. The issue of how the money is dispersed must be resolved prior to any serious discussion of raising the gas tax.

Raising taxes on our workers and families should never be done in a climate of high emotion where thoughtful and rational debate is rarely possible. Decision making in such an environment rarely stands the test of time and often creates more and larger problems over time then they solved in the near term. Calling a special session now virtually ensures a gas tax increase. All other options, even reasonable options such as re-prioritizing governments current spending habits, trading off one tax for another tax or looking for other means in which government can raise funds without increasing the tax burden, would be labeled as obstruction tactics and quickly shot down. This would truly be an injustice to what should be a deliberative and somber process.

Today, Minnesota needs a true statesman at its highest level, not a knee-jerk politician. We need leadership that will act decisively, not rashly. Our state would be best served if our Governor were to, 1) immediately release the funding necessary to deal with this current tragedy, 2) contract with private firms to conduct a thorough evaluation of our past bridge inspections, revisit any questionable inspections and begin repairing serious problems and, 3) demand that transportation leaders in the House and the Senate work with the Administrative branch and the public to bring forward thoughtful legislation in February. Calling a special session to simply raise the gas tax without exploring all other options would be a grave disservice to the people of the great state."


(Big Hat Tip: Cindy W.)