In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Session 2003
DocumentSession 2003
DocumentBudget and Taxes
DocumentHigher Education
DocumentK-12 Education
DocumentHealth and Welfare
DocumentPublic Safety
More from MPR
Your Voice

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
State is split on gas tax increase
Larger view
Fifty-one percent of those polled who don't support a nickel-a-gallon gas tax increase to pay for transportation projects. (Mason-Dixon Research)
The latest Minnesota Public Radio-St. Paul Pioneer Press Poll shows a slight majority would oppose an increase to the gas tax or their license tab fees to pay for transportation projects. Respondents were split over the condition of the state's roads. Both the House and Senate have passed different transportation funding projects. Gov. Pawlenty and House Republicans say the poll reinforces their decision not to raise taxes to pay for transportation projects. Senate DFLers say the polls show more people support an increase than in previous years.

St. Paul, Minn. — Ken Hoffman of Blaine is like 51 percent of those polled who don't support a nickel-a-gallon gas tax increase to pay for transportation projects. Hoffman says he thinks the state's roads are congested. But he doesn't think Minnesota can build its way out of the problem.

"Our gas tax is relatively high now and having more of that, I don't think putting more money into the roads or widening the roads is going to alleviate the congestion problem," he said.

Hoffman says he'd prefer to see the state spend more on mass transit, including buses and the Northstar Commuter Rail line. That system would run from St. Cloud to downtown Minneapolis if lawmakers approve funding.

Fridley resident Allison Rajala Ahcan is one of the 43 percent polled that supports a gas tax increase. Six percent of those polled are undecided. Rajala Ahcan says she supports a gas tax increase because congestion in the Twin Cities is getting worse. She says she started working from home because her commute from Fridley to St. Paul was getting longer and longer.

"I think the bottlenecks are really painful. I think being a parent, it's hard to justify sitting on a road in a car for an hour, an hour and a half a day when you can be spending that time with your family. That's getting more and more obvious to me that that's a big cost, a big family cost," she said. Rajala Ahcan says she'd be against too large of a gas tax increase because it could harm businesses that rely heavily on transportation.

Fifty percent of those polled say they also oppose an increase to the motor vehicle license tab fees to pay for transportation projects. Forty-three percent say they support it. Seven percent are undecided.

Leslie Kupchella, a spokeswoman for Gov. Pawlenty, says the governor is pleased to know a majority of those polled don't want to see their taxes raised.

"I think this is also a nice ringing endorsement of the message he's been talking about ever since before the campaign. We're not going to be raising taxes," she said.

Pawlenty is proposing a transportation funding package that adheres to his no-new-taxes pledge. The package, which was passed by the House, would borrow $550 million for road projects and seek an additional $500 million in federal funds ahead of schedule.

Kupchella says Pawlenty may be willing to dedicate more money to transportation projects in the future. She says the state's $4.2 billion budget deficit has prevented him from putting more money to transportation projects this year.

"I think he acknowledges that given our budget crisis, this is what we can do today. He wishes we could do more but the facts are this is where we are right now. With our budget situation, this is what we can do at this time," Kupchella said.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, says he's pleased with the poll's findings, even though most are against a tax increase to pay for transportation projects. He's proposing a $4.4 billion transportation funding package that raises the gas tax and license tab fees.

Johnson says the bill would includes $2.1 billion in new funding for roads and transit over the next five years. Johnson says past polls showed that more Minnesotans were against the tax increase.

"No one wants to pay the higher taxes, but once they link the gas tax and or tab fee increases to better roads and transit, they generally say 'OK, let's take a look at it.' I'm perfectly comfortable to support these two initiatives as we negotiate with the House and the governor," Johnson said.

House Transportation Finance Committee Chair Bill Kuisle, R-Rochester, says it's unlikely that the House and governor will go along with a tax increase. He says the public wants lawmakers to fix the budget deficit first.

"I firmly believe that people aren't ready for a tax increase this year or next year and we should try and do savings first. We should get through this downturn in the economy and then see what happens three or four years out," according to Kuisle.

The House and Senate will have to negotiate their different plans in conference committee.

The Mason Dixon poll queried 625 residents statewide. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects