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Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: April 11th, 2016, 1:16 pm
by RailBaronYarr
I'm glad he at least outwardly admitted it. It was pretty obvious last year but they packaged it as the typical "spending on roads is good for the economy" argument. It's good to see the GOP basically say socialism is okay as long as it's on things we like. Not that it really matters since the DFL, at least nationally, is totally cool with it too when it comes to roads. Though the MN DFL is surprisingly decent about keeping the funding sources to car buying, registering, and driving. I could see them cracking on the GOP proposal to use car parts sales taxes for road funding, because why is that materially different than car purchases.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: April 24th, 2016, 9:12 pm
by Tiller
Tiller wrote:What would be a good (and ideally, somewhat politically possible) source of revenue that MN could dedicate to building out and operating a regional/state-wide passenger rail system? A state-wide sales tax? Rededicating license fees? Maybe a carbon tax if support for one were to gain traction here? Ect.

If many areas of outstate were also in line for passenger rail, it could help reduce the political opposition we face building it in the metro. Additionally it seems that we're building up a queue of different regional rail lines that will probably never be funded unless we establish a dedicated funding source.
My current line of thinking in terms of legislation:
  • Formally create framework for a statewide intercity passenger rail joint powers board (State Passenger Rail Improvement Board, SPRIB?) to the extent the 2008 transportation bill did for the CTIB.
  • Expand MN/DOT's passenger rail office(?)(outlining necessary new funding and/or responsibilities?)
  • The counties in the "metropolitan transportation area" as defined in the 2008 transportation bill (the 7 county metro area) may levy up to a .25% sales tax (for said intercity passenger rail) and join the SPRIB.
  • Counties outside of the "metropolitan transportation area" may levy up to a .50% sales tax and join it.
  • The process for joining the SPRIB is the same easy process as it was for the CTIB.
  • The transit sales tax for the Metro counties is raised to .75% (Part of the DFL's current proposed transportation bill, but listed here due to its relevance)
  • Greater Minnesota's counties retain the authority delegated to them in the 2008 transportation bill allowing them a .50% sales tax levy for specified transportation projects and the ability to create joint powers boards, separate from (and in addition to) this new passenger rail authorization.
  • Minnesotan counties can now levy up to a 1% sales tax for transportation improvements in various forms.
  • The CTIB's 3% minimum funding guarentee would need to be modified and/or left out of the SPRIB due to the potential amount of counties involved (Minnesota has 87 counties).
  • A different system for delegating votes in the SPRIB is needed, thanks to there being 87 affected counties instead of the CTIB's 7. It's also important to prevent our handful of urban counties from being completely drowned out by everyone else.
  • There should probably be a general list of general goals/guidlines outlined in the legislation. I'm thinking something like
    • extend a basic level of passenger rail service to every county in Minnesota, and to every town of at least 1k people, of 1 train/day/direction
    • prioritize adding service based on total population served and fare recovery (and ridership?)
    • prioritize level of service based on total population served and fare recovery (and ridership?)
    • focus on using existing railways, while [re]building abandoned and/or new railways when prudent/needed
    • extend services into neighboring states/provinces, in cooperation with relevant agencies, when prudent
I know how points 1 and 3-8 would be executed thanks to the precedent set by the CTIB. Any adjustments, caveats, other ideas for these?

I'm really not sure what is needed in terms of points 2 and 10. I'm also not sure what would be a good alternate to point 9, if one is even needed. since it could just be left out entirely. Point 11 seems decent to me as-is, though I'd also welcome suggestions for that.

Any ideas/input? You guys are the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to transportation.

Relevant state statutes from 2008 bill, for reference: ... &year=2015 ... &year=2015 ... &year=2015

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 2nd, 2016, 1:14 pm
by mulad
I've had a few thoughts, though not quite as fine-grained as what you proposed. Given the bad experiences that Amtrak's had in getting support for expansion across the 46 states it serves (near zero growth in coverage in its 45 years of existence), I don't think it would be a good idea to let this happen county-by-county in a state where we have 87 of them. A statewide plan is probably the way to go -- perhaps breaking things down along the lines of the MnDOT districts could work, but I'm fairly doubtful about that too.

I'm always seeking better context for dollar amounts, and always come away more confused than when I started. I've tried tracking MnDOT's announced construction budgets each year, though that always leaves out the money funneled to counties and cities. According to these budget summaries, state highway and bridge construction levels have ranged from about $930 million to $1.3 billion in the last few years, with transfers to county and city governments for local construction hovering right around $1 billion annually.

That just makes me wonder what it would be like to have a $1 billion annual budget for public transportation -- I suppose I'm only semi-serious about that figure, but it would really be revolutionary for the state, and would serve to restore balance considering that we've only minimally funded public transportation for decades. We could really fund a lot of stuff: LRT, commuter rail, streetcar, and enhanced bus services in the metro (and maybe some outstate cities). Double-tracking and electrification of freight corridors to support passenger services and more efficient operation. Signaling and grade-separation of rail corridors for improved capacity and safety. Fixed-route bus services in and between cities and towns of almost all sizes, with dial-a-ride for "last-mile" service in more dispersed areas. Not to mention improvements for biking and walking, such as more pedestrian bridges over highways and funding assistance to allow development of homes, businesses, and schools within towns rather than out on the edge where land is cheaper but less accessible.

I'm not exactly sure how much money public transit currently gets in Minnesota each year. Metro Transit gets around $200 million in operational funding annually, in addition to nearly $100 million in fares. CTIB gets roughly $100 million annually from the 0.25% metro-area sales tax. There's a smattering of a few million dollars here and there for counties and cities operating local buses, and dollars for new equipment and facilities often seems to come from other sources. I suppose this adds up to ~$400 million per year.

There may be a distinction to be made between operational funding and dollars for maintenance, replacement, and expansion, but even if it's all in one pot, going from $400 million to $1 billion would make for a big change.

I guess I've been thinking of something more like a 1% sales tax rather than 0.25%/0.5%, applied more or less equally across the state -- perhaps some counties could opt for a lower 0.5% rate if it's considered impractical to give them rail access, but it would probably be good to support bus/dial-a-ride access for them regardless. A 1% sales tax would probably close most of the gap -- increasing CTIB/SPRIB receipts to over $400 million just in the metro area, probably with another $200-$300 million from the rest of the state.

A carbon tax would generate a lot of revenue too -- probably close to $500 million from vehicle fuels alone if CO2 is priced at $20/ton, though some care would need to be taken to use that funding for things that actually reduce emissions. Taxing fuels used for other purposes would also raise a lot, and it could be possible to tax other harmful emissions (such as the NOx central to the VW emissions scandal). However, I think carbon tax revenues are destined to go down over time, so some thought would need to be put into whether it should just be allowed to fade away, putting a cap of sorts on system funding, or if additional revenue should be brought in.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 2nd, 2016, 3:31 pm
by RailBaronYarr
I know I've been hammering on this in various threads, so bear with me. But it's helpful to think about transportation funding not just in terms of what the state spends on highways, bridges, and county/MSA aid money, but also local government spend on roads and streets. As another data point to yours, I did a data request last year, and in just the Metro District in 2014 MnDOT spent over $600m on roads and bridge construction/maintenance, not including MSAS/CSAH pass-through funding. If we included all road and street spending, which has historically and is still primarily about moving cars with little attention to transit effectiveness, walking, or biking, that number would shoot up drastically. I don't know what an analogous amount of transit spending (including ops and expansion) for the metro should be to be equivalent. Or if it'd even be worth it in many areas given land uses. And I've advocated for transit sales taxes, but I'm still not sold it's the best way to collect the money from an equity standpoint (I'd rather toll all our urban highways and use any money leftover from maintenance to fund regional highway BRT, but whatever). Anyway.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 2nd, 2016, 3:50 pm
by HiawathaGuy
Does anyone have an "example of good" with regards to paying for things (roads/maintenance/transit/operations) well? Every time I see people proposing one thing or another, I often wonder if there's someplace (within the US I suppose) that has a good formula? It feels like so many states/counties/cities do things differently - that one would have to believe that following an example of good would make sense. Am I over simplifying things? Do state laws make trying to follow some other state/county/city's idea a non-starter? I'm curious?

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 2nd, 2016, 4:03 pm
by David Greene
Back in the 2000's it was definitely the case that sales taxes were the gold standard for transit funding. Everyone was doing it. I don't know if that's still the case but it's hard for me to think of a more stable source of funding other than a straight levy of some kind. The primary argument back then was, "the feds want to see stable local funding and sales taxes are the most stable source we have."

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 2nd, 2016, 4:10 pm
by mattaudio
I don't know if it's done anywhere, and it's surely not politically feasible at this juncture... but I think it would make sense to use surpluses from demand pricing of freeway use in urban areas for transit use. It would be a huge equity win.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 2nd, 2016, 4:20 pm
by David Greene
But it would (hopefully) also be a declining revenue source. Not a good way to maintain a system, much less expand it.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 2nd, 2016, 9:13 pm
by mulad
To refine my number a bit, based on 2014 data, a 1% sales tax would bring in about $740 million, which is a very sizeable chunk of change -- especially if it could be combined with federal matching funds for at least some projects.

Yeah, I agree that there are issues with using sales taxes, since it tends to be more regressive than other tax sources. I've also had some issues with the fact that downtown Minneapolis seems to get exploited in particular. Downtown restaurants need to tack on 3 to 6% (the higher number if there's live entertainment), and if you buy liquor at a show, your tax rate ends up being 16.275% (page 5 of this PDF).

So maybe there needs to be a downtown Minneapolis exception, or the state public transport tax would be restricted to 0.25% if other taxes already add up to more than 10%, or something like that.

Given the fungible nature of tax dollars, I've also thought that a matching fund program might be a decent alternative -- maybe only charge a 0.5% sales tax, but match it 1:1 with funding from some other tax source. That could be more equitable. A farebox revenue matching program would also be an alternative -- hopefully that would encourage providers to focus more on attracting passengers rather than trimming services when things get tight. I don't have any specific matching fund sources in mind, though -- just more general across-the-board increases or something.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 3rd, 2016, 9:02 am
by RailBaronYarr
HiawathaGuy's question is a very loaded one. What values define good/bad to you? Most people would say that paying very little to drive, on any road at any time, is a "good" thing because it allows uninhibited freedom of movement for people and businesses. See: resistance to tolling or gas tax increases. This mindset sees it as a good thing that we spread out revenues between use (gas tax) and non-use (registration, MVST), then come up with wonky formulas to spread that money across the state based on population, defined road "needs," etc. The Germans see super high gas taxes and weight-based tolling on freeways for freight trucks as "good" because gas tax revenues are so high they not only cover their (more modest) road system, but help fund transit and other social programs not even related to transportation, while curbing pollution and managing demand for driving (but they largely don't have demand pricing for personal vehicles).

There are simply way too many ways to slice and dice the discussion. Pay for costs for construction/maintenance only? Aim to manage demand? Aim to help manage demand by running transit service along the same corridor(s)? How much should users pay for local travel? Are we talking externalities? Should pricing be dynamic based on your income for equity reasons, or should that be handled by rebates, or not at all? I don't think any state has actually even tackled these questions directly, so any funding mechanism is just something cobbled together over the last 50-60 years based on what seemed politically achievable at the time.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 4th, 2016, 10:17 pm
by Tiller
Some new thoughts after some pondering/processing.
  • MN/DOT should lead when it comes to studying/implementing corridors, as opposed to having groups of counties lead (like how county regional rail authorities plan our transit corridors here with the CTIB).
  • Thus the aforementioned goals/objectives should be applied to MN/DOT instead of the SPRIB itself. This probably means a larger/more inclusive/more detailed state rail plan would have to be created based off said goals.
  • Counties could "opt‐in" to service by enacting the passenger rail sales tax. This would guarantee them access to any current and future corridors that pass through as defined by the aforementioned goals.
  • There can be a certain % threshold of population (and other factors.) along a given corridor to be reached via counties opting‐in that triggers MN/DOT beginning work on that corridor. Maybe a population threshold and an eligible destination threshold (% of towns that would have stations, basically). It has to ensure a decent amount of county buy‐in along a corridor without becoming a tool of obstructionism.
  • The SPRIB's procedural role in relation to MN/DOT will need to be better defined to ensure it has meaningful say, but without overriding MN/DOT's authority.
  • MN/DOT districts are good units for organizing the SPRIB, particularly considering how it will have to coordinate with MN/DOT and its purpose.
  • There will have to be some special rules governing service in the metro area. Metro Transit and the SPRIB should be able to coordinate in such a way that municipalities within a certain range of the metro could also use their infrastructure for commuter rail. Providing regular transit service in the way SPRIB does for outstate is really the domain of Metro Transit in the Metro. Things like that will have to be outlined.
  • The language for parts of the previous point should be general language so it can apply to regional population centers as well.
    • Goal Revision: "extend a basic level of passenger rail service to every county in Minnesota, and to every town* of at least 1k people along a rail line, of 1 train/day/direction"

      I checked (before my previous post), and every county in MN has at least 1 town of 1k people along a current, former, or potential RR corridor (according to wikipedia's population counts), so this should work.

      *Towns should be defined as something like "contiguous areas of a certain level of development" so townships that are basically farmland aren't included, or you don't have areas of outstate doing weird things like merging townships together and incorporating to boost their access levels. Maybe you could make an exception if the nearest station is X miles away. There's also a question of what if a "town" is only part of the total population, with rural‐type sprawl being the rest. There are probably other edge cases like these. I'll probably decide on the least‐bureaucratic solution. Maybe state standards for municipal incorporation already clearly (enough) delineates this kind of thing and can be used.

      A county‐level breakdown of potential revenues:

      Counties with at least $10/M annual revenue under a 1% sales tax:
      • $215,500,000 Hennepin
        $62,550,000 Ramsey
        $45,700,000 Dakota
        $30,470,000 Anoka
        $23,620,000 St Louis
        $21,540,000 Washington
        $18,220,000 Olmsted
        $18,060,000 Stearns
        $12,360,000 Scott
        $11,370,000 Blue Earth
        $10,930,000 Wright
      These same counties, but under a .25% metro and .5% outstate sales tax:
      • $53,870,000 Hennepin
        $15,630,000 Ramsey
        $11,420,000 Dakota
        $7,610,000 Anoka
        $11,810,000 St Louis
        $5,380,000 Washington
        $9,110,000 Olmsted
        $9,030,000 Stearns
        $3,090,000 Scott
        $5,680,000 Blue Earth
        $5,460,000 Wright
      I like how outstate having a higher rate increases regional population centers' monetary say relative to the suburban counties', though the financial independence given by a 1% sales tax would also be great.

      Tangent on the latter. While the NLX can apparently get up to 80% federal funding, I'm not so sure most other projects we'd pursue can get that (thanks to both federal funding limitations and standards), or whether or not the hoops we'd have to jump through for smaller funding matches would be worth it. Federal funds will definitely still be pursued, though.

      There's also future sales tax reform to consider. If revenues start out at a level that can accomplish a decent portion, but not all, of the state rail plan, a broadening of the sales tax base (and a lowering of general fund sales taxes) could increase the amount of sales tax revenues.

      I can't help but suspect the central cities would never have a separate 1% sales tax for statewide passenger rail in addition to a .75%‐1% transit sales tax. Not without directly triggering sales tax reform, which would then cause it to be watered down anyways since each 1/4 cent would go farther. I'd love for funding levels to get there, but near‐term I'm not sure it's possible.

      With this kind of clause:
      1. Counties outside of the "metropolitan transportation area" may add the .5% project‐specific sales tax, which was authorized in 2008's transportation bill, to their SPRIB revenue stream authorized by this bill, the required process outlined for accessing that .5% notwithstanding.
We could have a .5% metro sales tax, and a 1% (.5% + .5%) outstate sales tax. That, in combination with potential gains via sales tax reforms, and federal matching funds, should be an adequate amount of funds for a good while.

(idk what's with the formatting, though it doesn't seem to be bad)

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 11th, 2016, 7:25 am
by twincitizen
Transpo bill conference committee meeting at 11am today. Likely not the last meeting before the bill heads back to each chamber for a vote.

EDIT: Predictably, disappointingly, the House didn't budge much on their proposal: ... ryID=10233

Re: Street, Road and Highway Projects

Posted: May 16th, 2016, 1:02 pm
by HiawathaGuy
Gov. Dayton unveils two $6-billion options for transportation funding ... 379669881/

Yet again, GOP obstructionists are crying foul over the money for light rail!
I really, really, really hope that the GOP loses their asses this fall - and that Daudt doesn't get reelected. I'm SO sick of his bullshit.
Why this has to be so difficult is beyond me. It's about ALL forms of transportation - pull your heads out of your asses and start to meet the Millennials a bit now, before your party becomes even more irrelevant. *face palm*

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 16th, 2016, 2:46 pm
by phop
The bonding bill is the elephant in the room. The metro will be just fine without it, but rural MN depends on it and constituents will be expecting their Rep to deliver. There's no reason for metro DFL'ers in the Senate to re-consider a bonding bill if Republican leaders in the house aren't negotiating on transportation in good faith. If rural Republicans use their political capital to torpedo a metro-only sales tax increase (which will torpedo the transportation bill) at the expense of bonding their constituents are going to punish them.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 16th, 2016, 3:02 pm
by David Greene
I don't think that's really true, unfortunately.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 16th, 2016, 3:10 pm
by Anondson
Yeah. Few voters are that discerning at compromises anymore. Their voters will more likely send back angrier Reps more demanding of no compromising.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 16th, 2016, 3:17 pm
by phop
Flipping the house doesn't require a wave. No bonding bill might be enough to tip the house to the Democrats. I would think that a few more swing-district Republicans are wary of this.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 16th, 2016, 3:48 pm
by HiawathaGuy
phop wrote:Flipping the house doesn't require a wave. No bonding bill might be enough to tip the house to the Democrats. I would think that a few more swing-district Republicans are wary of this.
Agreed. And if turnout is high on the DFL side in fall, all bets are off. I'm cautiously optimistic. But I'd be completely fine with the Senate & House split, if the GOP would actually show up to work - instead of just obstructing. It's a sad state of affairs at both a National and State level. And one that will bite them in the ass, the longer it continues.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 16th, 2016, 7:14 pm
by Tiller
I've been waiting for it to bite them in the ass... No luck thus far.

Re: Minnesota Transportation Funding (General)

Posted: May 16th, 2016, 8:50 pm
by David Greene
phop wrote:Flipping the house doesn't require a wave. No bonding bill might be enough to tip the house to the Democrats. I would think that a few more swing-district Republicans are wary of this.
Well yeah, but that's exactly the opposite of the scenario you outlined three posts above.

The suburbs and exurbs are always the key. They are the swing districts. It entirely depends on whether they see themselves are more tied to the core cities or to rural MN.

Hint: They are more tied to the core cities.

The bonding bill really has little to do with this in the end. The question is, how badly to constituents want a third 494/694 lane, fixes to 169 and various other upgrades and bottleneck improvements? We need a transportation bill to do those things.