How’s this for a man bites dog story? The Rochester Post-Bulletin reports that Olmsted County is transferring $749,000 from its employee health plan to increased resurfacing of county roads. Lower than expected claims last year produced a surplus in the self-insured health plan; commissioners already used some of it to waive premiums in January.
This runs counter to a long history of steep increases in health coverage costs and belt-tightening for transportation. But it’s also more proof that the user fees of fuel and vehicle registration taxes are no longer up to the job of keeping Minnesotans moving.
Across the state, property taxes are the main source of revenue for most of what local government does – from health care to roads and bridges to any number of other services. In Washington, policymakers are turning more and more to general funds raised mostly from income taxes to plug holes in highway accounts due to an obsolete federal gasoline tax that hasn’t been raised to keep up with inflation since 1993.
All this shows further erosion of the user-pays principle that built America’s extensive system of roads and bridges. As that principle has faded from public policy, so has the condition of the highway network. I’ll have more on this important subject next week at www.mn2020.org.