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LETTER: Lawmakers should support amendment

Speaking for my colleagues in Local 1091, we are just "regular people," which is to say we work hard for a living, and pay our taxes expecting that our government will do the basics, and do them well. Safe and efficient roads are the most obvious example of what we expect from our government. But with road funding, it seems that sometimes the link between jobs, the economy and basic infrastructure is forgotten — often for many years at a time — by legislators.

That's exactly why we stand strongly in support of a constitutional amendment dedicating the sales tax on auto parts to fund our aging and crumbling roads and bridges — particularly those here outside the Twin Cities metro. These funds are sorely needed, as even opponents of the amendment admit. Heck, anyone driving around and encountering our swimming pool-sized potholes understands that right now.

So, we need our legislators to act — now, and not make excuses for inaction. We've heard too much of that — even by our local legislators.

New sources of transportation funding — especially that used for maintenance — are rare in Minnesota. We have increased the gas tax only once since 1989, and it took a veto override to accomplish. A gas tax increase may make sense to us, but it's a political nonstarter. We don't think that will change anytime soon, and our roads need the investment now. We can't afford to wait years — maybe decades — until political conditions allow for a gas tax increase.

The amendment would take a very small portion of our general fund (less than 1 percent). This is very manageable for future legislators. They will absolutely not be forced to defund other important priorities, especially in years with a budget surplus (like this year).

If Minnesotans are given a chance to vote on this amendment, we think it would pass with flying colors. This will put thousands of Minnesotans like us to work in good-paying jobs, literally building our state's economic lifeline.

And doing so would create a very significant influx of funds for our roads budget. This dedication is the equivalent of a 9-cent gas tax increase — without raising taxes.

We know that one of the best ways to add funding to fix our roads and bridges is to lock away funds already being paid by those who use them. Roads should be paid for by user fees. Capturing the sales tax on auto parts is one way to guarantee that those who use the roads are paying for them.

It makes sense to hold transportation infrastructure funding above politics by placing the funds in a lockbox. Perhaps that's why voters continually respond favorably when asked to dedicate funds to transportation, and why 76 percent say they would vote for this one. Opponents claim that other areas of the budget will suffer as a result, but that's never been the case. The same arguments have been raised before, namely that schools, health care and local government aid would be cut. But that didn't happen. We (the voters) wouldn't let it happen in the future, just like we didn't let it happen in the past.

The time is now, the support is there and working people — like the vast majority of Minnesotans of both political parties — are enthusiastically supporting the influx in road and bridge funding. We're ready to get to work. We hope the Legislature is, too, because we need them to act.

Dan Olson

Business manager, Construction and General Laborers' Local 1091

(Represents 163 members in Carlton County)