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KAT supports full dedication of vehicle sales tax

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WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi Area Transit is one of 700 organizations that now support a proposed constitutional amendment to dedicate motor vehicle sales tax revenue for transportation purposes.

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The KAT joint powers board approved a resolution Friday supporting the measure.

Supporting the amendment "only makes sense," said Kandiyohi County Commissioner and KAT board member Dean Shuck.

Voters will have the final say. The issue will be on the ballot in November, asking Minnesotans to gradually dedicate 100 percent of the existing motor vehicle sales tax revenue to transportation.

Currently, about 54 percent of the existing tax goes to transportation.

The amendment wouldn't create a new tax but would shift the existing motor vehicle sales tax so that all of it would be used for transportation. The transition would take place over a five-year period.

If the amendment is approved, at least 40 percent of the tax revenue would go to public transit and up to 60 percent would be used for highways.

If the measure fails, public transit systems in Greater Minnesota can expect a decrease in state revenue, according to Tony Kellen, president of the Minnesota Public Transit Association.

Passage of the amendment would give public transit systems their "first dedicated source of funding," he said. "It gives us something we can count on."

Margaret Donahoe, legislative director for the Transportation Alliance, told the KAT board that the amendment may be the state's only chance to get more funding for building highways.

That organization has tried for years to get an increase in the gas tax for highway construction but "hasn't had a lot of luck," she said. The gas tax hasn't increased since 1988.

In the process to develop the constitutional amendment, there have been conflicts between entities representing highways and public transit. Wording on the ballot makes it unclear if transit would receive more than 40 percent of the money.

Repeated efforts to change the wording failed. There was some "tension" at times, said Donahoe, glancing -- with a smile -- at Kellen.

The wording had prevented some entities, like counties that rely on motor vehicle tax revenue for highway projects, from supporting the constitutional amendment.

But Donahoe and Kellen were traveling together to encourage organizations such as KAT to support the measure. They say having the dedicated funding from the tax would benefit both systems.

"It's the only opportunity we have on the table right now," said Donahoe.

Although the wording isn't clear, Donahoe said legislators have indicated they intend to abide by the 60-40 split.

If the amendment is approved, Kandiyohi County would receive nearly $5 million in new money by 2017 for highways, according to Donahoe. Willmar would receive an additional $732,000 during that same time.

Approval of the amendment would provide stable funding but would not necessarily mean additional money for KAT, said John Groothuis, KAT transit director, in a later interview. "We're not going to increase our budget over this," he said.

Ken Warner, director of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, told the KAT board that his organization was one of the first chambers in the state to support the amendment.

Both Kellen and Donahoe said they believe the amendment will pass. The coalition of organizations is in the process of raising nearly $4 million to promote passage of the measure.

In other action Friday the KAT board:

* Agreed to consider a request to subsidize a Saturday evening bus route to offer free rides from bars in Willmar, Spicer and New London during the summer. The request came from Dave Baker, owner of Melvin's in Spicer. Baker and another Spicer bar are currently paying the KAT bill so that patrons can get free rides home this summer. Baker said the new lower alcohol limit has made people uncertain about their alcohol limits and has increased the need for safe and sober rides.

* Heard a positive report on the 2005 audit from independent auditor Jim Ruff, who said KAT was a "financially strong organization" that had excellent internal controls on its financial operation.

* Was informed that KAT will be hosting the 2007 Minnesota bus rodeo, which is a competition in bus-driving skills. Two KAT drivers, Pam Woltjer and Donna Swift, will be competing in this year's event, set for July in Duluth.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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