Transportation Funding Highlights Gubernatorial Candidates’ Fundamentally Different Views On Government Spending

Walz contends a gas tax hike will be necessary in order to improve the transportation system in Minnesota. Johnson says it isn't a lack of money that is driving the problems with transportation, it's a lack of focus from the government.

Screenshot from KSTP video

Gubernatorial candidates Democrat Tim Walz and Republican Jeff Johnson continue to butt heads over transportation funding, airing their differences in a debate Sunday night.

Transportation policy has become a key issue of the upcoming election. Minnesota’s transportation system needs help—that much Walz and Johnson can agree on.

The similarities stop there, however, and the candidates’ fundamentally different views on government spending take over. While Walz argues for an increase in spending and, therefore, taxes, Johnson calls for greater government accountability and a more efficient allocation of resources.

According to Johnson, it isn’t a lack of money that is driving the problems with transportation in the state, it’s a lack of focus from the government.

“Government has become like a teenage boy in the area of transportation,” Johnson said during the debate. “We don’t focus on what people want and need the most which is first and foremost roads and bridges. And then where we need transit–because we do–let’s at least focus on those forms of transits that are actually efficient and effective.”

One mode of transportation Johnson singles out as an inefficient use of resources is light rail transit. Johnson does not support the current light rail projects promoted by the Metropolitan Council, saying the “cost-benefit analysis is terrible.”

Walz, on the other hand, firmly supports light rail transit.

“That transit system that moves workers in the Twin Cities area benefits and provides the capacity to grow the economy so that we can fund the highways in Southern Minnesota,” Walz said.

Walz contends the state needs more money in order to fund transportation projects, making a gas tax hike a primary talking point of his campaign. On his campaign website, the first bullet point in his transportation plan is to increase the gas tax to “secure a stable funding source for transit and transportation.”

During the Sunday night debate, Walz emphasized raising the gas tax by 10 cents, calling it a necessary investment.

“If we don’t do that, it’s going to come from somewhere else,” Walz said during the debate. “I’m not willing to not invest where we need to.”

According to the Minnesota Constitution, revenue from the gas tax must go to roads and bridges, not light rail. Despite praising light rail, Walz did not indicate how he intends to fund an increase in public transit.

Johnson continues to be firmly against raising the gas tax, arguing the state needs to be more careful with the existing funding.

“I don’t think we need a tax increase, period,” Johnson said. “We’ve seen a 53 percent increase in spending in eight years, we’ve seen massive tax increases in the last eight years. To argue that we can’t fill the potholes? I think that is a true failure in government and leadership.”

“We’ve got to be more careful with other people’s money in government right now,” Johnson added.

Watch the full debate below:

Christine Bauman