Hennepin County approves $10 wheelage tax

Citing a need for more revenue to fix roads and bridges, the Hennepin County Board today approved a $10 annual wheelage tax for each vehicle in the county.

Hennepin County estimates that by charging the $10 tax onto the roughly 885,000 eligible Hennepin County vehicles, the wheelage fee would generate $8.7 million annually.

The tax, authored by Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, was passed on a four to three vote. Commissioners McLaughlin, Gail Dorfman, Jan Callison and Linda Higgins voted in favor. Commissioners Jeff Johnson, Randy Johnson and Mike Opat voted against the tax.

McLaughlin (4th District) said the money would go toward paying down debt on previous road projects, improving street surfacing, painting traffic signals and synchronizing 69 intersections, among other improvements.

“I think this is a user fee that will provide property tax reduction and significant upgrades of our system so we can get it up to a quality level that we have set for ourselves,” McLaughlin said.

Commissioner Jeff Johnson (7th District) said the county has shifted money away from road projects over the years and instead is spending money on bicycle infrastructure, transit, sidewalks, LED lights to decorate the Lowry Avenue Bridge and other projects.

“It’s not that we don’t have enough money it’s that we’re choosing to spend it elsewhere and I believe that finding somewhere near $9 million in a $1.8 billion budget to keep our roads safe and efficient and modern is really not a difficult task,” Johnson said.

Opat (1st District) said if the County Board wants more money for roads, it should find other ways to generate revenue, such as dipping into contingency or property taxes.

“There is no doubt that this fee, this tax, is regressive beyond any other tax this board has ever considered,” Opat said. “It’s flat and the poor pay more.”

According to Hennepin County budget documents, the county is responsible for 2,200 lane miles, 146 bridges and 784 traffic signals. The county’s transportation budget in 2013 is $36.1 million, with $20.4 million going towards roads and bridges.

The Minnesota Legislature authorized metro counties to levy a $5 wheel tax back in 1971. Anoka, Dakota and Washington counties began collecting the $5 tax in 2007 and 2008.

In 2013, the Legislature voted to increase the possible wheelage tax to $10 per vehicle. The bill also would allow for a $20 wheelage tax starting in 2018, but the Count Board would have to authorize that increase.

Motorcycles and mopeds are excluded from the tax.