Loosening Minneapolis Taxi Regulations – Still Tougher than Uber Standards

Minneapolis has a list of proposed changes to current taxi regulations that may be long-overdue. But, considering what Uber and similar services are allowed to do, this particular provision seems rather strange:

Reducing the total cabs a company must possess, from 15 to five.

That provision also mentions that the 5+ cars must be a similar color scheme.

So, if Uber can own zero cars with no requirements over color scheme while taxis must own at least 5 cars of a similar color scheme, it seems like the changes in regulations would still allow outstate startups to cherry pick fares in Minneapolis while sucking 20% of each fare out of our community. That’s a great deal for Uber, but seems like an unfair playing field for our local taxi businesses.

2005 Iraq War Justifications Revisited

Nearly nine years ago, I wrote a post on this blog criticizing a letter to the editor I read that justified the 2.5 years we’d spent blowing up Iraq while losing 1,914 American soldiers’ lives (at the time). That post was about the continually evolving justifications for the war that didn’t need to be fought in the first place.

I don’t get around to reading blog posts from 2005 that often, so it’s interesting to see if what I was thinking then has stood the test of time or not.

In this case, a letter to the editor writer, Duke Trana, seemed to be justifying the continued losses of American soldiers’ lives on the Pottery Barn Rule. Obviously, if you never walked into Pottery Barn in the first place, you wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences of breaking things in their store (no, that’s not really their policy).

But, what’s most interesting about this case is that the letter to the editor writer, Duke Trana, popped back up with his own opinion on his letter from nearly nine years ago:

Oh look! Obama pulled out of Iraq and they are falling into civil war….DUH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is exactly what I wanted to point out almost 10 years ago, Ed.

The current president has been trying to get us out of a mess that the previous president justified based on a series of lies to Americans. Things already weren’t going well due to the hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of American lives spent by George W Bush fighting a war that didn’t need to be fought in the first place. It turns out that paying for Pottery Barn breakage isn’t cheap, and the costs don’t stop when you leave office.

At this point, I decided to determine whether the person I picked on nearly 9 years ago was a rational human being.

It seems like both the downfall and rise have been overblown. And, gay marriage seems to have done quite well since October 2012.

Or, this one from 2010:

No problem. Just let oil continue to spill into the Gulf of Mexico. That beats providing health insurance to a larger percentage of Americans.

Or this one, where apparently foreign countries deserve lenience when polluting American waters:

It turns out that responsible oil drilling – at any cost – is a big no-no for Duke:

Apparently, over-regulating involves regulating industries to a degree where people aren’t killed in the line of work. That’s burdensome.

And then there’s this:

And this:

Duke Trana is a self-described FOX News consumer. Still, it’s surprising how well he seems to fit Roger Ailes’ audience profile. I suppose it saves time if one can solve all of one’s irrational fantasies in one place.

Vikings Stadium Fans Still Haven’t Found Their Checkbooks #wilfare

A guy who thinks that it’s the state and city’s responsibility to heavily subsidize his entertainment – John G. Morgan, of Burnsville – wrote an op-ed for the StarTribune that the StarTribune published. Morgan writes a counterpoint to the anti-stadium (ah-hem, pro-Vikings fans finding their checkbooks) arguments he’s heard.

Here’s a counterpoint to his counterpoints:

“The NFL is a dying league.”

Wrong. The NFL is the most popular sport for at least the 30th year in a row.

If it’s such a popular sport, why does it need to rely on billions in public subsidies every year?

“Exorbitant ticket costs.”

While there certainly will be expensive seats, many will be $50 or less, about midrange for entertainment options. Many concerts cost well more than $100 to attend these days. It costs more than $30 just to see a small production at the Ames Center for the performing arts in Burnsville, where I live.

I totally agree with this one. The tickets are far too cheap. They should include a $100/ticket fee on top of today’s prices to allow fans to cover the public’s stadium obligations.

“Nonprofits, charities, cities and otherwise worthwhile causes lost funding due to the stadium.”

Just flat-out false. There is not, nor has there ever been, a connection between funding a stadium and not funding roads, schools, hospitals, charities, etc. By the way, how many millions do the team and players contribute to charities every year?

It has been brought to my attention that public money collected to subsidize Vikings fans is not fungible. Yes, this makes no sense, but don’t let that stop a StarTribune op-ed from being published.

How many millions do the team donate to charity every year? Millions? The Vikings don’t even contribute a million to their primary charity per year. Seriously. We’re converting $30 million in taxpayer dollars per year into less than $1 million for sick kids. You know what would work better than that? Devoting more tax dollars to sick kids rather than subsidizing Vikings fans in Burnsville.

“The Super Bowl won’t bring anything to our city other than headaches.”

Again, saying it or believing it doesn’t make it true. A Super Bowl would bring tens of millions to the local economy.

Superbowls have costs and benefits. Just look at what the last Superbowl did for Minnesota’s economy! Wait a second. We didn’t hear much about what it did for our economy during the last stadium debate. Strange, eh? By the way, have you watched that halftime show?

“Neighbors of the new stadium, who will live near an empty, hulking behemoth for about 350 days a year.”

I’m pretty sure of two things: (1) These people knew about the stadium before moving across from it and (2) no one forced them to do so.

At least he’s willing to admit that NFL stadiums do nothing for a neighborhood.

“Rich out-of-staters like the Wilfs don’t deserve to be further enriched on the public spigot.”

Yes, because they’re the first out-of-state entity ever to receive a subsidy. Sheesh. At least the public will get a return on this one.

I saw a lot of “The government wastes money on all kinds of things, so us Vikings fans deserve our share of waste too!” arguments during the stadium debate. As you can imagine, they normally came from people who consider helping people with nothing wasteful government spending.

Again, it’s amazing that the StarTribune would publish an op-ed with an unsubstantiated claim like “At least the public will get a return on this one.” That doesn’t seem to pass the reality check. Perhaps the StarTribune was thinking of their own return when they read that?

“Most Minnesotans didn’t want this stadium.”

Again, simply not true. A vast majority didn’t want to lose the Vikings. The issue was how to pay for the stadium, not whether it was needed or wanted. The majority favored a penny-a-drink tax or some other common-sense, statewide solution.

The vast majority of of Minnesotans didn’t want to lose the Vikings until asked to pay to keep them. Were Vikings fans knocking on doors at the state capital offering to help pay for it? Nope. They were lobbying to have other people cover the costs for something they claimed to value.

I, like most Minnesotans, would probably support a penny-a-drink tax if it went toward improving the education of young Vikings fans so they don’t grow up to think that subsidizing the NFL is the government’s role.

“I’ll remember that stadium when I spend my money and when I vote.”

The same thing was said about the gutsy people who made Target Field happen, and they subsequently were re-elected. Target Field is a gem and a smashing success, regardless of whether the same can be said of the team that plays there.

A case can be made that some Minneapolis city council members lost their seats due to the stadium vote. RT Rybak said that, rather than holding a referendum on the Vikings stadium – as required by the Minneapolis city charter – voters should use the next mayoral election as their referendum. Then he decided not to run again for mayor. And, the city voted for a candidate who voted against the stadium while a candidate who voted for the stadium finished way back.

As was suggested by the comment by US Bancorp President and CEO Richard Davis that led to Friday’s letter, it’s time to get over it. Or at least bring facts to the argument.

He brings up a good point. Bring facts to the argument. That could have been done in that op-ed but he through out easily challenged statements instead.

Janet Moore and Baird Helgeson Repeat Ridiculous Vikings Stadium Jobs Claims #wilfare

Note the sentence in parentheses at the end of the below paragraph from Janet Moore and Baird Helgeson’s StarTribune piece on Vikings stadium corporate welfare subsidies:

Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement that although the Supreme Court challenge “had no merit, I was extremely concerned that this lawsuit would delay the financing of the stadium, and the progress” of the Downtown East development. “[The] decision clears the way for thousands of Minnesotans to get to work on these two important projects.” (The stadium project alone is expected to create 7,500 jobs over the next two years.)Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Think about this. The Vikings stadium will take three years to build. The Vikings claim that it will take 4.25 million work hours to build the stadium. Let’s do the math:

425,000,000 work hours
Divide that by 2,080 hours (hours in a work year) converts that to 2,043 work years.
Divide 2,043 work years by the three years of the project gives us 681 full time jobs worth of work over three years.

Janet Moore and Baird Helgeson repeated the ridiculously misleading figure that uses the number of people who work on the job site over three years rather than the number of full time equivalents. It’s almost as if they work for a paper who’ll profit from the public subsidy.

Another way to look at this: The StarTribune could create 20 more jobs overnight if they cut back Janet Moore and Baird Helgeson’s hours to 3.632 hours per week and hired 18 new employees with the same hours. That would be a big jobs creation strategy if the goal was to inflate the number of people receiving a check from the Strib.

If the StarTribune wanted to be intellectually honest when reporting jobs claims by corporate welfare boosters, they’d explain stuff like this to their readers.

A “Reasonable Liberal” on Publicly Financing the NFL #wilfare cc @LiberalPolitico

A Twitter user who goes by the name “Reasonable Liberal” broke down a justification for subsidizing the Wilf Family of Fraudsters in New Jersey rather than investing Minnesota tax payers money in Minnesotans.

True. And, the people and businesses who appreciate that additional value the most are perfectly capable of finding their wallets to support the entertainment they appreciate. The MN Orchestra, unlike the MN Vikings, exposes kids to music rather than how to create concussions between arrests.

According to the Pioneer Press, the MN Orchestra received $962,000 in subsidies for a year, and the Minneapolis Convention & Visitors bureau claims that the MN Orchestra had 215,000 paid attendees. That’s an average subsidy of $4.47/ticket. Compare that to the Vikings subsidies of closer to $70/ticket per game for 30 years. And, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an orchestra attendee buy beer by the case, then park in an empty lot to pre-orchestra.

The NFL puts you on the map for sure. Just look at what it’s done for Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit.

You’re right. Warren Buffett’s wrong. Case closed.

And, Kiplinger was wrong when they named Omaha the 3rd best place to live in the USA. And, Parenting.com was wrong when they named Omaha the 8th best place to live in America for families. Granted, Kiplinger’s overlooked having an NFL team in their ranking criteria. Instead, they used:

Population Growth Since 2000: 6.6%
Percentage of Workforce in Creative Class: 30%
Cost-of-Living Index: 89.4 (100 being national average)
Median Household Income: $51,627
Income Growth Since 2000: 15.1%

Different strokes.

Totally. No Minnesotan is proud of the local bands they’ve seen at First Avenue or Triple Rock. None take any pride in the orchestra, our local arts scene, or local beers. If you’ve ever seen a Minnesotan talking to someone from another state, there’s simply NOTHING they can bring up about Minnesota that they take pride in outside of our publicly subsidized NFL team. You’ll never hear a single mention of Target, General Mills, the Mayo Clinic, Surly or Summit beer, Spam, the State Fair, Lake Minnetonka, cabins, Bob Dylan, the Jucy Lucy, or the Coen Brothers. When it comes to sports references, you’ll never hear a single mention of the Timberwolves, Twins, Wild, Lynx, or any Gopher sports. None. Actually, one would have to have a very narrow obsession with a single sport that plays 10 home games per year to overlook this reality.

Personally, I’d like to see an “allegiance with my neighbor” built around this: what’s the best we can do for our kids? I don’t think the answer would be “subsidize the Wilf Family of Fraudsters” for many people who ask their neighbors that question.

Without four pro sports teams in Minneapolis and St Paul, what could people from the lakes region talk to people from the Twin Cities about? Would they have to cave to talking about subsidized baseball? Subsidized hockey? Subsidized basketball? Subsidized college football? What kind of world is that?

Do you honestly believe that America is healthiest if “the national conversation” revolves around alliances to each person’s publicly subsidized private NFL franchise?

Prove it. Not anecdotally. Prove that Minnesota and Minneapolis see actual net gains in population that justifies sending subsidizing a the Wilf Family of Fraudsters rather than spending that money investing in the kinds of things that tend to drive real estate prices (quality schools, low crime).

Haven’t you noticed that Minnesota pops up on nearly every list put out by publications ranking cities based on positive attributes? Best places to live, healthiest cities, fittest places, longest life spans, most educated populations. Where does having a publicly subsidized NFL team compare to things that have a significant impact on people’s lives rank? Have you not noticed that Minnesotans go outside in the winter? Ice fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, and XC Skiing don’t rely upon the level of subsidies we’ve given to the Wilf Family of Fraudsters.

The “no big loss” theory assumes that people may spend their weekends and entertainment dollars differently, but still largely within the State of Minnesota if we didn’t publicly subsidize an NFL team with $1.66 million PER GAME for 30 years BEFORE interest, and WITHOUT considering operating costs and the obvious future demands from the NFL to upgrade the stadium to make it “competitive”.

Those are all local non-profits that receive FAR LESS public subsidized than the for profit NFL team that’s owned by the Wilf Family of Fraudsters.

I’ve been to all. They’re assets to the community. As I’ve mentioned before, “The Guthrie’s per seat subsidy over 30 years comes to $1.67, compared to the Wilf’s current demand of $77.” Even with the Vikings being owned by the Wilf Family of Fraudsters who’ll suck money out of the State of Minnesota, I could see subsidizing a new Vikings stadium to the same per-seat rate as the Guthrie. That comes to $10.8 million.

It declares that we’re not Bridgeport, not Madison, not Raleigh, and not Austin, who all have higher numbers of college educated residents, but no NFL team.

Minneapolis is optimistic about its future. And Minneapolis residents just voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new mayor who voted against subsidizing the NFL.

Agreed. When the Building Trades lied to people on push poll phone calls, they didn’t do it out of love for the Vikings. They did it to influence people into supporting public subsidies for a bad project that would put them to work. Greed is a good motivator.


No. That’s a huge difference for a very small number of recruits who happen to be into music AND the Red Sox.

Many of the most elite schools in the United States are in communities that don’t have NFL teams. Perhaps we should focus on being more elite than providing entertainment to college students?

No, that’s not why the city and state did what they did. The DFL voted to support the unions who support them. Country club GOP members voted to subsidize the entertainment expenses of large corporations. Deciding votes among Minneapolis city council members justified their votes based on threats of money being taken from them by the state by union member legislators.

We didn’t invest. We subsidized. Los Angeles somehow survives just fine without pro football. I have no interest in living in Chicago and have many well paid friends who feel the same. If you need an NFL team to sell the benefits of Minneapolis over Chicago, you really should spend more time getting to know Minneapolis.

Honestly, the recruiting angle doesn’t do it for me. If local businesses thought that having an NFL team was critical to their success they could invest in it. In fact, that actually happened when the Metrodome was built. There was even money from a company called Dayton’s. Now, we have a Dayton redistributing money from Minnesota and Minneapolis taxpayers to the Wilf Family of Fraudsters in New Jersey.

Speaking of “reasonable liberals”, when the vote on the Vikings stadium took place, the reasonable liberals voted against the stadium. Reasonable liberals like Karen Clark, Jim Davnie, Frank Hornstein, Erin Murphy, Michael Paymar, and Jean Wagenius voted against the Vikings stadium corporate Wilfare bill in the house, and Scott Dibble, Kari Dziedzic, John Marty, and Patricia Torres Ray in the senate. These are reasonable people. I’m curious to find out who “Reasonable Liberal” considers to be reasonable liberals considering the opposition to the stadium subsidies by reasonable liberals.

How to Write a Response Letter. Example: @Rep_SAnderson on #SundaySalesMN

I don’t think allowing Sunday liquor store sales in Minnesota is the biggest issue facing the state, but it’s never a bad time to kill off Minnesota’s ridiculous blue laws. So, when MN Beer Activists sent out an alert that they were making a push on allowing Sunday sale, I was willing spend a minute filling out an online plea to MN’s elected officials.

Since then, it’s been interesting to watch the replies roll it. It turns out that the email went to ALL state level elected officials and not just the ones who represent me, so I’ve been receiving emails from state senators and reps who’ve found time to respond to non-constituents about this issue.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

2/3 of the responses I’ve received have been from DFL legislators, and 100% of responses have been from people who support changing the law to allow Sunday sales.

Of the responses I’ve received, by far the best has come from Sarah Anderson. While politically divisive, she at least offers some decent advice on who to talk to if this issue is important to you:

Dear Sunday Liquor Sales Supporter,

Thank you for supporting my efforts to allow for the sale of liquor on Sundays. I voted FOR Sunday Liquor Sales, along with 21 of my colleagues.

Currently, the House, Senate, and Governor’s office are controlled by Democrats. Key Democrat leaders who OPPOSED Sunday Liquor Sales include: Joe Atkins, Paul Thissen, and Erin Murphy. Joe Atkins (Democrat – Mendota Heights) is the Chair of the Commerce Committee. Legislation on Sunday Liquor Sales needs to go through his committee. Paul Thissen (Democrat – Minneapolis) is the Speaker of the House. Speaker Thissen controls what bills are heard on the House Floor. Erin Murphy (Democrat – St. Paul) is the Majority Leader of the House. She advises Speaker Thissen on what bills should be heard on the House Floor.

For Sunday Liquor Sales to pass, the dynamic at the Legislature needs to change. I encourage you to contact your legislator and express your views.

Thanks again for your support!


Sarah Anderson
State Representative

That’s a solid letter. She states where she stands and points to who’s worth talking to for people who’d like to see this issue get resolved and put behind us. If all response letters from elected officials were this good, I think we’d have a far more informed and engaged public.

That said, it makes me wonder what type of letter Rep. Anderson wrote to people opposed to the Vikings stadium corporate welfare bill. She voted against that bill, which was great. But, at the time, did she write back to people opposed to the bill with letters like this?

Currently, the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. Kurt Zellers (Republican – Maple Grove) is the Speaker of the House. Speaker Zellers controls what bills are heard on the House Floor. Matt Dean (Republican – Dellwood) is the Majority Leader of the House. He advises Speaker Zellers on what bills should be heard on the House Floor.

For the Vikings stadium corporate welfare baill to not pass, the dynamic at the Legislature needs to change. I encourage you to contact your legislator and express your views.

It would be great if she had, but I doubt it. Perhaps it’s possible to be powerless while in the minority and majority?

It’s Hard to Take the Opinions of ExxonMobil Funded Professors Seriously #VMT

Who would argue that fuel efficient cars are getting a free ride? If you guessed “Michael E. Webber, a professor in the energy department of a university in Texas where ExxonMobil is the largest corporate donor” you’d be correct:

Switching to a ton mile fee solves several problems at once: It raises the revenues we need for our transportation projects while ensuring that electric and natural gas vehicles don’t get a free pass.

The ExxonMobil funded professor’s proposal is to charge people a tax for every mile driven, then adjust by vehicle weight, so lighter cars would pay less than heavier ones. He explains that here:

It would also encourage people to drive smaller cars fewer miles, which would achieve additional benefits like reduced petroleum consumption, emissions, traffic congestion and wear and tear on the roads and highways.

You know what else would achieve those goals? Raising the gas taxes.

His plan could also encourage people to drive lighter, less fuel efficient cars, like the 14 MPG Camaro rather than the 1-ton heavier – but actually more fuel-efficient – Dodge Durango:

Screenshot 2013-12-24 10.18.57

But, the ExxonMobil real benefit under his VMT * weight plan is that it takes away one of the real incentives for buying the hybrid version of the same vehicle with virtually the same weight. For example, it costs around $4,000 more for the hybrid version of the Camry, but you’ll save quite a bit of money on gas (and gas taxes) over the life of the car, which helps economically justify that environmentally friendly decision:

Screenshot 2013-12-24 10.23.57

Hybrids sell better when gas prices are higher, which leads to cleaner air, less revenue for ExxonMobil, and ExxonMobil professors justifying eliminating one of the benefits of hybrid vehicle models.

How much money are we talking about?

Now, here’s where it becomes particularly difficult to take this ExxonMobil funded professor seriously:

Assessing a half-cent fee per ton mile would cost a typical American car owner about $50 per year and would cover the highway fund’s revenue shortfall, according to my calculations.

Here’s my calculation:

  • The average American driver drives: 13,476 miles/yr
  • The average American car burns: 24 MPG
  • So the average American driver burns: 561.5 gallons of gas/year
  • $50 in gas taxes split over 561.5 gallons of gas comes to 8.9 cents per gallon

If all we need to do is raise $50/year from drivers to solve our transportation funding gap, we could divide that $50 into the 561.5 gallons/year of gas burned per drive annually and realize that raising gas taxes by 8.9 cents/gallon would bring in the same revenue as this professor’s ExxonMobil supported, convoluted tactic.

Let’s take a look at this professor’s argument in favor of his VMT * weight scheme again:

It would also encourage people to drive smaller cars fewer miles, which would achieve additional benefits like reduced petroleum consumption, emissions, traffic congestion and wear and tear on the roads and highways.

Do you honestly believe that raising gas taxes by 8.9 cents/gallon (or, charged $50 annually) would achieve any of those things? Frankly, I have a hard time believing that he actually believes what he’s written.

Republicans should like it because it would end the subsidies for alternatively fueled vehicles . . .

So would raising the gas tax to a point where alternatively fueled vehicles were price competitive with carbon spewing ones. That actually would “reduced petroleum consumption, emissions, traffic congestion and wear and tear on the roads and highways.”

and Democrats should like it because it would encourage energy conservation.

So would raising the gas tax.

In this new phase of partisan agreement on budgets, revising the gas tax would be one more step in the right direction.

Can we all agree to agree with this ExxonMobil funded argument? Please?

Or, we could just raise the gas tax.

Perhaps ExxonMobil funding makes people blind to the obvious. Take this example:

Keep this fact in mind: There were about 260 million Americans in 1993 when the tax was last raised. Today there are over 315 million. And we travel more miles than we did two decades ago. That means the transportation infrastructure has to do more with less per-mile spending, adjusted for inflation.

He points out that we don’t have as much transportation spending power because the gas tax hasn’t been raised in 20 years, isn’t adjusted for inflation, or even taxed as a percentage of the price of fuel. It’s just a flat tax per gallon that hasn’t increased since “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston topped the charts. However, he doesn’t jump to the simplest solution (raise the gas tax, then adjust it to inflation). That would involve removing his ExxonMobil funded thinking cap.

And, as we move into cities and use mass transit we will drive less.

Let’s throw people who ride buses and trains under the bus? Perhaps ExxonMobil can buy up our country’s newly laid LRT lines and tear them out? It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done that.

As cars become more fuel efficient they require less gasoline.

Good. It’s dirty and dangerous to extract, refine, and transport, bad for our health, and bad for the environment.

At the same time, alternatively fueled cars such as electric vehicles don’t pay gasoline taxes at all, and others, such as natural gas vehicles, pay a lower rate on average, so the current system subsidizes their use.

I guess we could ignore that people driving fuel-efficient cars still pay a ton of taxes toward transportation through income, property, and sales taxes. That seems like a solid move for an ExxonMobil funded professor to make. One thing we won’t see from this ExxonMobil funded professor is a mention of how people who don’t own cars subsidize drivers through sales, property, and income taxes.

That means our gasoline purchases — and our gas taxes — are declining, putting a strain on our trust fund.

As an ExxonMobil funded professor, is he more concerned about declining gas taxes or gasoline purchases? Considering that his proposal is to actually eliminate gas taxes, which would lower the price of gas at the pump, it seems possible that people might end up buying more gas. Consider this: Do people buying heavier, more expensive cars (along with the higher taxes and licensing associated with them) consume less gas due to the higher annual fees? Would bumping up those fees by $50 change their behavior?

The problem is already acute. Since 2000, spending by the highway fund has generally outpaced revenues; since 2008, the fund has required an infusion of $41 billion from the federal government’s general fund.

A problem as simple to solve as increasing the gas tax is not a particularly challenging problem. As we get closer to finally adjusting the gas tax to deal with today’s economic realities, I can see why ExxonMobil and other carbon spewing companies would prefer to see our transportation infrastructure funded by something other than a tax on their pollutant.

And, again, guess who’s tax money is being used to finance the “infusion” that makes up for the gas tax shortfalls? Drivers of fuel efficient vehicles and people who don’t own cars at all.

As Kim P. Cawley of the Congressional Budget Office argued this summer in testimony before a House subcommittee, “The current trajectory of the highway trust fund is unsustainable.”

Indeed. It’s hard to pay for something that has increased costs when you’re using a tax last increased in 1993. But, that doesn’t make it an impossible problem to solve. In fact, it’s quite simple.

One other option would be to stop building/maintaining roads that encourage sprawl, lead to more gas consumption, but not nearly enough gas consumption to cover the cost of the roads and bridges that encouraged the sprawl. That tends not to be mentioned in this or other “lower the gas tax” editorials.

One choice, of course, would be to raise the gas tax. But this would surely raise the ire of many people and might be politically untenable.

Ire? We can’t have ire. Ire is what happens when people have to face the true costs of commuting by truck from an exurb. That must be avoided at all costs, right, ExxonMobil? ExxonMobil will surely do their part to help avoid rising the ire of many people by lobbying at all levels of government to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Coincidentally, as @sumnums pointed out on Twitter, ExxonMobil tossed some money at the NY Times while they’ve been running this ExxonMobil funded professor’s gas tax lowering argument on their homepage:

Exxon Ads on NY Times VMT Homepage

Purely coincidental, I’m sure.

What Should be Done if Gas Taxes Aren’t Raising Enough Revenue?

One thing that confuses me about transportation funding is the idea that raising gas taxes is politically impossible, but creating new forms of transportation taxes like a tax on every mile you drive would be feasible. To me, the raising gas taxes seems far more efficient since all of the systems are already in place to collect the taxes.

For an example of this, I’m going to break down a portion of an interview on the Exxon Mobil funded American Enterprise Institute’s website with U of MN transportation professor, David Levinson. Among the topics discussed was how transportation should be priced in the future. Levinson explains:

One of the predictions I have is that we eventually move over to tolling. Now, one of the reasons is if vehicle miles travel declines, the revenue source that we’re going to be using – that we’ve been using since the 1920s and are continuing to use to fund a lot of our road system — is the gas tax.

If we’re bringing in less revenue from gas taxes due to less miles being drive (or less miles than projected) it seems like raising gas taxes could make up for that fairly easily. It’s not like driving has plummeted in America, so we’re not talking about extreme measures.

Well, we’ll be consuming less gas because – gasoline because miles traveled goes down and we’ll be consuming less gasoline because fuel economy is improving and because we’re moving towards an electric freight.

If gas tax revenues dropped by 2%, gas taxes would need to increase by ~2.1% to make up the difference. What effect would nudging up gas taxes 2.1% on have on gas prices? It would cause them to spike by . . . 1.4 cents per gallon. Creating a new form of taxation seems far less efficient than making small adjustments to the gas tax over time.

If gas taxes were increased that little, I would expect it to have nearly no impact on people’s car purchase decisions and driving behavior. It would make up for lost revenue from fuel efficiencies and lower miles traveled without causing behavior-modifying pain.

But, if gas taxes were increased significantly more than that more people might consider buying slightly more fuel-efficient cars for their next purchase. Say, a Civic rather than an Accord. Or, consider the hybrid model. This seems like something that could create a positive feedback loop. If so, perhaps the increase in taxes would be offset by lower fuel prices caused by less fuel demand? It seems like the side effects of higher gas taxes (less congestion, getting hit slightly smaller cars, sharing the road with quieter cars, less damage to our roads, dealing with less ridiculous parking jobs by trucks that can’t fit into parking ramp spots, less dependence on oil, and less pollution) are fairly positive.

We have to switch from the gas tax to something else to fund infrastructure.

No, we don’t. The USA has the worst fuel efficiency standards in the world, yet countries with far more efficient vehicles still manage to build and maintain their roads and bridges. How so? It probably has something to do with gas taxes being far higher nearly everywhere else.

Retail Premium Gasoline Prices, Selected Countries

The country with the most expensive gas in the world happens to be an oil producing country. That’s right. They have oil, yet still have expensive gas because they think the benefits outweigh the costs. That country is Norway, where gas costs $10.12 per gallon with taxes. I had roommates from Norway in college, and when their friends from Norway came to visit they’d fight over who got to pay at the gas station because they thought it was so funny. They also thought it was funny that Americans had to take on so much debt to pay for college (their gas taxes help pay for roads AND free universities in Norway).

If we raised the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents to $7.184 per gallon, that tax would generate around one trillion dollars per year. According to this article, it would only cost around $13 billion to make public 2- & 4-year universities free in the USA. So, we could make college free for around 10 cents per gallon in gas taxes if higher education was a higher priority.

It would be interesting to see what changes $10/gallon would have in America. In my household (1-car family that drives around 11k/yr), that would equate to around $200/mo in additional car fuel costs, though not actually $200/mo in additional costs overall since it would just be a different way of paying for infrastructure and services than we do today. Still, I would imagine that it would create some changes in behavior. More fuel efficient cars are far easier to justify when they can save you thousands of dollars per year. For example, a family that drives a truck 15,000 and a car 12,000 miles per year with an average fuel efficiency of 20 MPG would spend $9,450 more per year on fuel at $10/gallon. A Prius starts looking pretty interesting when it saves thousands – rather than hundreds – of dollars per year in fuel costs.

Now, what that thing is, whether it’s congestion charges or whether it’s using general revenue is a political decision. We’d be much better off if we had congestion charges and mileage charges.

We already have congestion charges. When you’re sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, you’re getting crappy mileage. It’s a naturally occurring congestion charge. With gas taxes being so low in America, the pain doesn’t seem to adjust behavior to the degree that congestion charges (Levison’s apparent preference for having government impose those charges more directly) or significantly higher fuel costs would.

For example, if your car knew what your paid for gas, it could calculate and report your cost per mile for fuel in real time on the dash. At $3/gallon, cruising at posted highway speeds burning gas at a rate of 30MPG gallon costs 10 cents per mile in fuel. Once you hit congestion and are only getting 20 MPG or less in bumper to bumper traffic, your fuel cost jumps to 20 cents per mile or higher.

The gameification of driving behavior could be ratcheted up if people saw the real costs of their behavior, and even more if the stakes were higher due to higher gas taxes. A mileage tax, instead, would state, “You’ll pay the same cost no matter how much of a lead foot you are.”Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

And we’re moving in that direction, it seems. But that’s got to be implemented and people are really nervous about the government tracking where they’re going.

There are privacy concerns, and there are people – like me – who say, “Why not just raise the gas tax?”

And that would replace the gas tax and it could replace a lot of property tax revenue. So most local governments fund roads via property taxes. And there’s no reason it should be based on property taxes, except that historically it’s been based on property taxes and it’s hard for local governments to implement gas taxes because if one of them implements a higher gas tax, then people can easily go to the next county over, the next town over and buy gasoline somewhere else. Whereas states, you’re less likely to leave state to buy gasoline.

Levinson’s vision appears to be that mileage taxes would not only subsidize revenue lost from less driving and more fuel efficient cars, but also chip away at the tax revenues used beyond gas taxes to pay for roads. Another, simpler, way to do this would be to raise the gas tax to chip away at those taxes. But, I can see why people who own a lot of property might prefer to see transportation costs shifted away from their vacation homes.

So gas taxes have traditionally been at the state level and property taxes have traditionally been used at the local level to fund roads, but there’s no reason if you have a mileage-based user fee and you have a uniform rate you couldn’t use that to pay for highway financing. And then you can differentiate the price. So if you’re driving when it’s less congested, you don’t pay as much. And if you’re driving in areas with less traffic in general, you don’t pay as much. Would be a couple of things that you could do to try to soften the impact of this and to use the financing mechanism to help manage roads better.

We already have that with gas taxes. The taxes are just too low for most people to notice or care. The wheel already exists, but needs to be pumped up to be more effective.

I’m trying to wrap my head around why we’d want to charge people less for driving on roads that have “less traffic in general”. It seems like the roads they’re driving on would be some of the least efficient roads to maintain since they generate so few miles of driving. If you own a vacation home at the top of a mountain accessible via winding mountain road, you may drive where there is less traffic in general, but you’re not likely generating enough taxes to maintain the road to your property. This person deserves a tax break because they drive where there is less traffic in general?

Now, whether we’re going to go to a full-fledged highly dynamic congestion pricing system, that’s, I think, a few steps away, but it would be more efficient if we did.

That would make sure that the wealthiest have the smoothest commutes even at the most congested times of day (ex. I-394). That probably plays well with the American Enterprise Institute’s audience. If congestion pricing like this provided a luxury service at a price far beyond the cost, thus creating a progressive tax rather than a regressive subsidy for wealthy people with long commutes, I could live with it.

Arguments like this make me wonder who’d be in favor of shifting away from taxes on gas to forcing people to pay by the mile regardless of the fuel efficiency of their vehicle. It doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch to assume that people who profit from selling more gas, or actively ignore the environmental costs of driving, might prefer such a model. And, it turns out that that’s the case, as Media Matters reports:

The idea of charging drivers by the mile rather than by the gallon has found unlikely allies in the conservative Taxpayers for Common Sense and the libertarian Reason Foundation, which supports the “more logical and fairer method of paying for state highway needs.”

Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Reason Foundation think it’s “fairer” to charge a 47.8 MPG, 2,921 pound Prius driver the same cost per mile as someone driving a 16.6 MPG, 5,397 pound V-8 Dodge Durango. Do those cars create the same level of damage to our roads or emissions into our air? It’s the kind of fairness that the oil industry loves, and is willing to lobby for, since they’d be the winners.

Who are taxpayers paying to store Vikings stadium construction dirt? #wilfare

Building a “People’s Stadium” to the NFL’s specs involves moving a lot of dirt. The upside of building a stadium where an NFL stadium already exists is that it’s easy to find empty lots to store that dirt on since NFL stadiums don’t spur development.

Tim Nelson reported that the MSFA has found a temporary home for some of the dirt from the construction site. Nelson quotes Ted Mondale:

We worked out a lease with the property next door.

That’s convenient.

Who owns that property?

The Wilf Family.

Wait a second.

We’re leasing land from the Wilf’s?


Aren’t taxpayers buying this same piece of land from the Wilf Family for an undisclosed sum to incorporate it into the new stadium?


Then why are we leasing it? Why not just buy it now?

Who’s side is Ted Mondale on?

A Friends & Family Health Care Fundraising Example #MNSure

I recently attended a fundraiser for an employee of a local restaurant who contracted brain cancer. His health care bills are clearly going to be astronomical. But, he has an incredible group of family, friends, and coworkers with the means to help who managed to raise over $13,000 to help him with his bills.

That’s great stuff, but is that really the best way to pay for health care? In a pre-Obamacare world, it’s certainly a common one, based on the number of posts to Facebook and signs I see in the entryway to restaurants promoting events like this.

How would that be different under Obamacare? Here’s how I think it could go down. I went to mnsure.org to look for a plan that may be suitable for the person mentioned above. My assumption was that he’s around my age and doesn’t smoke. At this point, my browser crashed, so I restarted it rather than pretend that this is the end of the world. Then I found some plans.

The cheapest plan I could find was a bronze plan for $113.87/month:

Screenshot 2013-12-06 09.21.55

This plan may be cheaper for people with low incomes due to state and federal subsidies, which may be the case for a restaurant employee.

Take a look at that deductible ($6,300). Notice that it’s less than half of what his friends and family were able to raise for him. Here’s the breakdown:

Screenshot 2013-12-06 09.24.45

As I see it, we’re going from a friends & family fundraisers to make a small dents in enormous health care bills to friends & family fundraisers to cover fixed health insurance deductible payments. That, to me, is not a perfect system, but a better one than we’ve had in the past.