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Another bump in the gas tax?

It’s common knowledge that maintaining and rebuilding roadways costs a lot of money.

Much of this funding currently comes from gasoline taxes, but with more money still needed to fix roadways across Minnesota, a major question arises: Would drivers be willing to pay more for better roadways?

This question was addressed at last week’s meeting of the Otter Tail County Board, where Margaret Donahoe, executive director of Minnesota Transportation Alliance, spoke on the subject.

Minnesota’s fuel tax now stands at 28.5 cents per gallon. In 2014, state legislators will debate a new 5 percent tax on gross fuel receipts, or the possibility of adding 7 to 10 cents per gallon to the current fuel tax.

Donahoe is traveling around the state to talk to community leaders. She noted that the last major transportation tax increase took place in 2008.

“Many states are moving away from the per gallon fuel tax to a sales tax,” said Donahoe, with new transportation funding bills approved in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont and Wyoming.

A new gas tax formula in Minnesota would raise an additional $360 million for road funding. Roadway funding would also be realized if state lawmakers approve an $850 million bonding bill.

“These are good amounts of money, but they wouldn’t be enough to address all the roadway issues throughout Minnesota,” said Otter Tail County Engineer Rick West.

“An array of funding sources will be needed to address all the highway and bridge needs.”

Donahoe told county board members that state lawmakers can’t raise taxes too much: “However, we need some new revenue sources to help meet our transportation needs in Minnesota.”

County Commissioner John Lindquist said he believes most county residents see the need for gasoline taxes as a means of roadway funding.

“It’s money that stays home and it’s a user fee,” he said.

Donahoe also told county commissioners about Move MN, which is the brand name for a growing and diverse coalition dedicated to erasing Minnesota’s transportation deficit.

She noted that nearly half of Minnesota’s roads and bridges are in poor or mediocre condition.

“Move MN seeks to secure a comprehensive transportation funding package during the 2014 state legislative session,” she said. “New funding will enable our state to properly maintain and improve transportation assets that are of benefit to all Minnesotans.”

Tom Hinten

Otter Tail County Correspondent