Transportation package helps county

Jim Worcester calls the half-dozen House Republicans who crossed over to join Democrats in overriding Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a $6.6 billion transportation funding package the "Elite Six."...

Jim Worcester calls the half-dozen House Republicans who crossed over to join Democrats in overriding Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a $6.6 billion transportation funding package the "Elite Six."

That's because what they did gives Beltrami County an extra $13 million over the next 10 years in road and bridge funds, says Worcester, the Beltrami County highway engineer.

"After 20 years of a funding drought for Minnesota counties, we finally have a funding package for the state, counties and cities," Worcester told Beltrami County commissioners Tuesday.

In recent years, Pawlenty has vetoed three different transportation funding packages, primarily because they contain gas tax increases. The Republican governor has pledged "no new taxes" during his administration.

Six Republicans -- one more than needed -- joined House DFLers to override Pawlenty's latest veto and the DFL veto-proof Senate followed suit, putting the 10-year funding plan into law that includes a 5-cent a gallon tax hike and another 3.5 cents to pay off transportation bonds.


"I must compliment the Elite Six, those Republicans should be called the Elite Six," Worcester said. "Without their support, we'd be back to Square 1 again. I salute the Elite 6."

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, thought differently, however, as he punished the six by taking away their GOP Caucus leadership posts and ranking member committee status.

Under the bill, the first 2-cent hike will come April 1, and the other 3 cents on Oct. 1. The 3.5 cents for bond payment will be phased, starting with 0.5 cents in fiscal 2009, rising to 2.1 cents in fiscal 2010, 2.5 cents in fiscal 2011, 3 cents in 2012 and 3.5 cents in fiscal 2013.

Considered a surcharge, the extra 3.5 cents will come off the gas tax when the bonds are paid, or about 20 years.

And the bill also provides a $25 tax credit to offset the higher gas tax for low-income residents.

Coupled with other changes such as removing the cap on license tab fees will give Beltrami County $13.047 million more in state aid dollars for roads and bridges through 2018, Worcester said.

The county is receiving $4.55 million this year, but will get an additional $455,000 in fiscal 2009 because of the funding package. Fiscal 2010 will bring another $876,000 and later fiscal years will see increases each year from $1.06 million to $1.72 million.

The average annual increase is about 15 percent, the highway engineer said.


The $6.592 billion 10-year package will send $3.4 billion to the state trunk highway system, $1.46 billion to the County State Aid Highway system, $382.2 million to the Municipal Street State Aid program, $118.2 million to other local roads, $1.15 billion to the Metropolitan Area Transit program and $58.2 million to rural Minnesota transit programs.

Worcester said there will also be a CSAH funding allocation formula change with new revenues from the increased gas tax, license tab fees and increased motor vehicle sales tax which will now consider 60 percent based on needs and 40 percent based on vehicle registrations.

Still, Beltrami County should fare well, he said. "There are more motor vehicle registrations in Beltrami County than any other in our 11-county district," he said. "There are 50,000 and more vehicles registered in Beltrami County.

"Under the bill, the county can also levy a half-cent sales tax, after a referendum, for transportation," Worcester said. "That could be used in the future."

"At $20 a vehicle, we'd get $100,000," said Tyler Koos, assistant county highway engineer. "But the revenues must be attached to a specific project and the tax ends with the project is paid."

The bill also provides $60 million for bonding, with $50 million for bridges and $10 million for safety improvements, Koos said.

The county now has two sets of plans for bridge replacements with the Department of Transportation in St. Paul that could make use of the funds soon, he said. One is a bridge along County Road 305 and the other, in Quiring Township, would replace a bridge with a road, estimated at $250,000.

Three tiers of bridges will be used to allocate the funds, Koos said, with the highest priority going to bridges seeing more than 1,000 vehicles a day and classified as functionally deficient, a second for bridges with fewer vehicles but functionally obsolete, and a third for everything else.


"Our two bridges probably fit in the second category," Koos said. A bridge at Waskish over the Tamarack River is the only functionally deficient bridge in the county, "and now maybe we can move on it."

"This will allow the state to move ahead again," Worcester said.

The Minnesota Transportation Alliance estimates that the funding package will cost the average driver about $130 a year. People who keep the cars they have today will see no increase in license tab fees.

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