Board Defeats New Wheelage Tax
On a 2-5 vote, the County Board yesterday defeated a proposal to assess a $5 tax onto every automobile in Hennepin County. Commissioners Callison, Johnson, Opat and Stenglein joined me in voting “no”.
The rationale given for the new tax: It would benefit property tax payers in the county by shifting $4 million per year off the property tax role and onto automobile owners – an appropriate user fee for those who use the roads.
To argue that creating a new tax on our constituents somehow benefits them is … curious. In reality, I think there were probably two more important motives behind this proposal:
1. More Money. Government at every level is always looking for new sources of revenue. While the amount this new tax would have yielded was small in the grand scheme of a $1.56 billion budget, it was new money nonetheless. And “naive” would be a mild descriptor for anyone who believed we would actually make any long-term cut in property taxes to offset the new tax.
2. Fewer Cars. This new tax would have been very consistent with a philosophy evidenced in the 20-year transportation systems plan this board passed a few weeks ago. As I explained in an earlier post on the topic:
The emphasis of this [Transportation Systems] Plan is on everything except the mode of transportation that a vast majority of Hennepin County residents choose to use to get around. We hope to double transit use, double bicycle use and add inumerable sidewalks while simply trying to maintain existing roads and, in fact, actually attempting to force many county residents out of their automobiles (by targeting a dramatic – and unrealistic – reduction in auto usage within the county)…
Let’s be honest and realistic about our decisions. When a vast majority of Hennepin County residents choose their automobiles to get around (regardless of the other options) and we as a county board set our vision as a great expansion of everything but roads, that’s not transporation policy, that’s social policy. That’s not about providing choices to travelers and commuters, it’s about changing the choices they have already made.
This new tax would have penalized those who choose the automobile as their preferred mode of transportation. I am happy to report that a majority of the Hennepin County Board did not want to go there.