Joe Bouvette: Funding formula shortchanges farm roadsHarvest once again is underway in the Red River Valley. Roads are filled daily with heavy commercial trucks hauling the crop to storage bins or to the elevators for shipping.
By: Joe Bouvette, Grand Forks Herald
HALLOCK, Minn. — Harvest once again is underway in the Red River Valley. Roads are filled daily with heavy commercial trucks hauling the crop to storage bins or to the elevators for shipping.
This large tonnage of crop production needs a good network of roads in order to be delivered to markets promptly and efficiently. Funding for many miles of these roads in the valley comes from the County State Aid Highway system.
Kittson County has 365 miles of these County State Aid Highways, of which 260 miles are paved two-lane roads.
Funding for these roads is distributed through a complex formula that is provided from gas tax collections and motor vehicle registrations. This formula was modified in 2008 by the Legislature to favor high population areas, and in sparsely populated areas such as ours, this change resulted in a funding source which has not kept up with the costs of road reconstruction and maintenance.
For although our area is low in population, it is overflowing with farm production and transportation. Minnesota is sixth in the nation in ag exports, and agriculture is 22 percent of our state’s economy, which puts it at No. 1.
The valley counties typically are in the Top 10 in the state in tons of ag production for annually planted crops. Polk County is the perennial No. 1, followed by Marshall, Norman, Clay, Wilkin and Kittson counties, according to the National Ag Statistics Services.
This shortfall in funding is being made up by property taxes, which are costing taxpayers in northwestern Minnesota more than three times more than residents in highly populated counties pay. Therefore, the 2008 change in legislation resulted in an unfair distribution of funds — one that does not provide enough to sustain our local transportation system.
Large counties have many more sources of funding available to them that result in significant dollars such as wheelage tax, federal aid, bonding and sales tax. The State Aid dollars are much more critical to small counties than to larger ones.
In our area, federal funding also will be reduced by nearly 2/3 beginning in 2014, which makes our State Aid money even more significant for our roads and bridges.
Northwestern Minnesota needs to have its lost funding replaced by the upcoming legislative session. It needs to have a sustainable source of funding that will allow its population to grow, better serve agriculture with 10-ton roads instead of 7-ton roads and will allow for a safe and modern road and bridge system.
Food grown here is used to feed the masses. Our roads are part of a statewide road system, the purpose of which is to benefit the state.
Without food, we can’t have peace; without peace, we can’t have a democracy; and without democracy, we don’t have a state or nation.
Bouvette is chairman of the Kittson County Board.