CAG Statement April 24, 2015
The County Board was scheduled to vote “last” week on the imposition of a half percent sales tax for transportation related projects, but before the meeting it was announced by the Chair of the County Board that the question would be removed from the agenda. It is unknown at this time why the item was removed; presumably there was insufficient support for it to pass.
CAG opposed the tax and encouraged the County Board to consider a referendum vote to allow taxpayers to make the decision.
For many years state law prohibited the imposition of city or county sales taxes, unless local voters approved them in a referendum, but when the Twins wanted taxpayer help to pay for a new stadium, they persuaded the legislature to make an exception to the referendum requirement, permitting a simple majority of the Hennepin County Board to impose a sales tax in Hennepin County for the benefit of the Twins. A much broader, subsequent action by the legislature allowed counties to impose a sales tax for road and transit projects by county boards without benefit of a public referendum.
There are many reasons to question the need for the sales tax. Fundamental is the issue of need, both for the road projects, themselves, but, also, the new taxes to pay for them. There is, also, the issue of whether developers, who stand to benefit from new road construction, should pay a greater percentage of the costs through impact fees. Once built, roads last forever, incurring millions of dollars in long-term maintenance expenses, which can only be met by higher taxes. There are also environmental and quality of life issues that need to be addressed. More roads mean more cars, more noise, more congestion, and more pollution.
Transit improvements are needed, but they don’t cover any of their capital expense and optimistically only 30 percent, or less, of their operating costs. Should fares be raised, perhaps to meet half the operating cost or the service? Should there be a fee at park-ride lots?
More discussion is needed, and, more important, voters should be given the opportunity to make the final determination.