A part of the transportation bill that was passed over the veto of Gov. Tim Pawlenty was an option to allow the seven metro counties to raise their sales tax from 6.5 percent to 6.75 percent. Each county board votes independently, and the money collected would fund transit.
On the surface, this may sound like palatable legislation.
Most Minnesotans agree we need to invest tax dollars to ensure a strong and vibrant infrastructure to sustain our economy. But after scratching the surface, you quickly realize that this is a bad deal for Washington County.
The sales tax increase would raise approximately $5 million annually in Washington County. The money would be put in a pot with the other counties' monies. A newly-mandated Joint Powers Board made up of metro county commissioners and Met Council representatives would decide how the money is to be spent metro-wide.
Of the 100 weighted votes, based on projected revenue and population, Washington County would get a meager seven votes. Just seven.
Hennepin and Ramsey Counties combined would have more than 60.
We don't have a comfort level handing our Washington County taxpayers' checkbook to Hennepin and Ramsey County.
Furthermore, according to the proposed agreement, Washington County is only guaranteed that $1 million of the $5 million we put in each year will be spent in Washington County.
More potholes. The first $31 million collected in sales tax goes directly to the Met Council. Why? The Legislature says so.
In addition, one to two percent of all the sales tax collected goes to the Minnesota Department of Revenue for collecting it -- a tax to collect a tax.
But doesn't the Joint Powers Board decide how the pot of money is spent? Yes, but if and only if it concurs with the Met Council's existing transportation plan.
According to the Met Council, there will be no light rail and no commuter rail in Washington County until at least 2030. The "best" Washington County can hope for is a couple more express bus routes.
So, for $5 million a year, we might get a modest bus service expansion, sometime in the future. By the way, one express bus route costs $500,000 to $700,000 annually to operate.
To join the Joint Powers Board, Washington County would have to put in about $50,000 up-front. Once a member, we would have to give at least three years' notice to get out.
Washington County taxpayers would still be on the hook for any bonds (loans) that were taken out by the Joint Powers Board, even after giving notice that we are leaving, and even though our voting privileges would be severed immediately.
Neighboring Wisconsin's sales tax is 5.5 percent compared to a proposed 6.75 percent for the metro area under this plan.
Don't you think people, especially in eastern Washington County, would cross the St. Croix River to save money on big ticket items like a car or boat? Or, conversely, will it discourage our Wisconsin neighbors from shopping in the metro area?
Whether the Washington County Board votes for the sales tax increase or not, the transportation bill already provides Washington County with an additional $57 million for our transportation needs over the next 10 years.
This is money that will be spent on road and bridge projects within Washington County exclusively.
Well-intentioned transit advocates are trying to convince Washington County residents that this is a good deal for everyone in the metro area.
After you read the fine print, the sales tax increase option is clearly a bad deal for Washington County.
Met Council member,