By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 5/8/2017
Hello from St. Paul,
Lost in our House transportation proposal that would provide $6 billion over the next ten years to our infrastructure needs without raising taxes is a provision that would add $50 million to the budgets of both Dakota and Washington counties.
Some background: in 2008 the Legislature allowed for the creation of the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), a group of five Metro Area counties that agreed to levy a one-quarter-of-one-percent sales tax to pay for transit projects throughout the region. This occurred through a joint powers agreement between Anoka, Hennepin, Ramsey, Washington and Dakota counties to control how the body operated and how revenue is allocated.
Since then, that sales tax has been collected in all five of these counties to fund transit projects.
Last year Dakota County, recognizing that it was not getting nearly the bang for the buck it had hoped for when agreeing to partner with the other four counties – voted to withdraw from CTIB, which is a two and a half year process. Later the remaining four counties voted to dissolve CTIB completely – a process in which all five counties must agree.
Once again, Dakota County analyzed the parameters of dissolving CTIB, and felt the distribution of money was not equitable to their taxpayers, so they voted to block the dissolution.
The House transportation finance bill seeks to direct a dissolution of CTIB. Under the bill, Dakota County would receive $30 million and Washington County would receive approximately $20 million more of the sales tax they paid into CTIB than they would have under the five-county CTIB dissolution proposals, according to the latest offer.
There are a few other items of note in this legislation: a county can increase its sales tax from one-quarter-of one-percent to one-half-of-one-percent, but it first must ask the voters for permission through a referendum. The counties can also continue with the sales tax that’s in place, but they cannot use those funds for bus rapid transit or light rail unless they’ve received permission from the Legislature.
Why? Let’s say a new light rail line is constructed. Once it is in place, the state is on the hook for 50 percent of its continuing costs into perpetuity. In essence, state taxpayers are forced to spend billions and billions of dollars on its operational and maintenance costs from now until the end of time. Further, for each additional line those operating costs are continually taken out of transportation funding, leading to fewer dollars being spent on road and bridge needs in the Metro Area and throughout the state. It’s only fair that the state weighs in on these projects.
With a gain of $30 million, I’m told Dakota County commissioners support this House provision.
I know that at least one Washington County commissioner isn’t as enthusiastic, upset that the legislation would create a loss of local control.
People certainly have a right to that opinion. But you can’t argue with real dollars and lost revenue to the county. Last week I confirmed with Washington County that supporting the original CTIB dissolution over the House legislation would result in a loss of $20 million to the County.
In essence, those who don’t support this legislation would rather send $20 million to Minneapolis and St. Paul.
While I support this bill, I don’t take this legislative action lightly. A point can be made that the counties in CTIB should be allowed to dissolve in a manner they see fit. But when the taxpayers in the two counties I represent are being short changed in the agreement, then I am going to fight for them every time.
Talk to you soon,
Representative Tony Jurgens
523 State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55155