Minnesota roads are
pothole-riddled because of inadequate funding for construction and
maintenance. Yet gas taxes are quietly siphoned off for other
These revenue losses
are significant. Over $2 million each year could be saved for the
highway trust fund just by eliminating the loss of dollars taken
inappropriately for All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV) and off-road truck (4 x
At the behest of
lobbyists for ATV and 4 x 4 truck owners, gas taxes paid by people
riding ATVs and other off-road vehicles are removed from the highway
trust fund into a special fund at the DNR to develop and maintain
trails for them in state forests.
Perhaps it is
reasonable to take gas tax revenue used by public trail riders and
direct it to back to trail maintenance. However, there is no logical
justification for taking gas taxes paid by people riding ATVs or 4 x
4s on private lands,
and transferring them for use on public trails that those riders
never use; trails many oppose because of concerns about damage to
state forests and habitat.
There is also no
logical justification for diverting gas taxes paid by people riding
ATVs in roadside ditches, when the money is needed to repair erosion
damage they cause to the roads.
The story is similar
for off-road 4 x 4 driving. The state assumes that over 120,000
Minnesota 4 x 4 owners use an average of 34 gallons per year riding
off-road. About $870,000 is allocated, each year, from those gas
taxes to create obstacle courses in state forests. These obstacle
courses are used by only about 7000 4 x 4 truck owners who buy
permits so they can ride in the mud and winch their trucks over tree
trunks and other obstacles.
Do Minnesotans who are
dodging potholes and sitting in traffic congestion really want nearly
$900,000 of gas tax money diverted to pay for 4 x 4 truck playgrounds
that erode land and damage our forests, for such a tiny sliver of the
Last year, the DNR conducted a
new gas tax study calculating how much fuel is used for recreational
ATV riding in order to determine how much tax revenue to divert to
the DNR for ATV trails. The DNR study estimated that ATV riders used
enough gas that they could increase the gas tax allocation for ATV
trails from about $800 thousand to $1.4 million per year.
The DNR study also
collected data to indicate where recreational riding was done, but
they didn’t bother to tally that part of the study. The DNR
reported only on the portion that would be used to justify increasing
the funding they receive for ATV trails.
I requested the raw
data from the other half of the study and asked an analyst to tally
the numbers. The study showed that only 15% of recreational ATV
riding is done on public lands and trails (the remainder is on
private lands or in roadside ditches.) It is no surprise that the
DNR had little interest in showing the results of the portion of the
study that would cut their appropriation.
budget calls for increasing that ATV trail allocation as if all the
riding is on public land. However, recognizing that only 15% of the
riding has any connection to public trails, a fair allocation based
on the results of the entire
study would decrease, not increase, the ATV trail funding. It would
drop down to approximately $210,000 per year – a difference
that would save almost $1.2 million for the highway trust fund.
With regard to the 4 x
4 gas tax distribution, a fair allocation should be limited to, at
most, the gas tax paid by the 7000 drivers who buy permits to operate
on the truck trails, not the 120,000 owners who never use those
trails. The current allocation is a fraud. Even by the most
generous accounting, the gas tax for 4 x 4 trails should be cut from
the current $870,000 down to no more than $50,000.
Senate File 3462 is
legislation I introduced that would recalculate the gas tax
allocation for both ATVs and 4 x 4s to accurately reflect the results
of the gas tax studies. ATV and 4 x 4 lobbyists will fight this
legislation. But correcting these two misappropriations would
provide an additional $2 million every year to help repair
Minnesota's deteriorating transportation infrastructure -- that's a
lot of potholes! It won’t solve all our transportation funding
needs, but it would certainly help.