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Report: Businesses oppose new transportation taxes

Business owners are nearly equally split on whether new transportation funding sources are needed in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s 12th annual Business Barometer Report, released last week.

Of the 350 randomly selected participating employers, 47 percent said the state should find new funding sources for transportation, up from 32 percent in 2014.

This year, nearly 60 percent of respondents said the state’s transportation system is better than it was four years ago. But of the 12 percent that said the system was worse in that timeframe, most reported that transportation issues have had a modest or significant impact on their business.

Taxes were high on the list of business owners’ concerns, as 56 percent of respondents said taxes were the biggest or second-biggest barrier facing Minnesota businesses — a 6 percent drop from last year.

Tax increases for transportation will be a hot-button discussion in the upcoming legislative session, which begins March 8. The Transportation Finance Advisory Committee, convened in 2012 by Gov. Mark Dayton, said the state faces a $6 billion state highway transportation deficit over the next 10 years and DFL lawmakers say a tax increase is necessary to fill the gap.

Legislators will attempt to agree on transportation funding after passing a short-term “lights on” bill last session, largely maintaining the status quo for roads and transit funding. Transportation committee chairs from the House and Senate have said they are confident they can come to an agreement this session, but are still unsure of how to get there.

In 2015, Dayton and Senate Democratic leaders proposed bills that would increase taxes to help pay for the deficit. Republican leaders in the House have maintained that funding is available in existing tax revenue and should be reallocated toward transportation.

Of those surveyed, business owners largely opposed increasing taxes to fill the $6 billion funding gap. Instead, 64 percent favored dedicating a sales tax on automobile parts and rental cars, which normally end up in the general budget, to transportation. The second most preferred option was increasing license tab fees to go toward roads.

Despite tax concerns, 83 percent of respondents said they felt optimistic about the state’s economy, and 89 percent of respondents said they planned to keep their businesses in Minnesota over the next decade.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Business Barometer Report is released annually by the chamber and public affairs firm Himle Rapp. The report has a 5.3 percent margin of error.

Transportation Advisory Board seeks seven members

The Transportation Advisory Board — an advisory board to the Metropolitan Council — is seeking seven new members as of Jan. 1.

The 34-member board helps to shape the Metropolitan Council’s transportation policy plan by reviewing, providing comments on and recommending local projects for federal funding.

For the coming year, the board is looking for four citizen members representing Hennepin, Carver and Scott counties, two new members to represent transit interests, and one person to represent non-motorized transportation options. The members’ terms are two years.

Generally, members who represent an interest like transit or non-motorized transportation would have some work history in those industries, said Bonnie Kollodge, communications representative at the Metropolitan Council.

For more information, or to apply for the advisory board, visit the Metropolitan Council website. Applications will be reviewed on Oct. 28.

Bottineau Transitway planners host environment open houses

Bottineau Transitway planners are hosting public open houses this month to share environmental impact information and answer questions about the light rail transit line.

The 13-mile line, also known as the Blue Line Extension, would begin at Target Field Station with stops in north Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park.

The project is currently in the draft environmental impact statement stage, but far enough along for planners to share preliminary findings with residents. The line is set to begin construction in 2018 and open in 2021.

“We’ve had a lot of meetings previously where people could come and learn about the alignment and where stations would be located,” said Dan Soler, project director for the Blue Line Extension, who also oversaw the Green Line LRT project. “You can still get that information here as well, but the main focus at these meetings is to get a little more information about both the environmental impacts that are anticipated as a result of this project, and then the beginning of what the mitigation measures would be for those environmental impacts.”

Planners will host two more Bottineau Transitway environmental impact open houses before the end of the month:

  • Oct. 28 from 5-7:30 p.m.: Golden Valley City Hall, 7800 Golden Valley Road, Golden Valley
  • Oct. 29 from 5-7 p.m.: Harrison Community Center, 503 N. Irving Ave., Minneapolis

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