Map of the Day: State Highway Taxes vs. State Highway Spending

Here are two maps showing the same basic dynamic: for all its talk of geographic inequality, rural Minnesota has been getting more than its fair share of road money for a long time. These two maps come from the excellent Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which is one of the many groups attempting to create a more sustainable policy landscape at the state capitol.

Here you go:

Donor-Donee-County-Map-by-Amount-12-24-14 Donor-Donee-County-Map-by-Percent-12-24-14


Here’s an explanation of the methodology from Jim Erkel, the director of the Land Use and Transportation Program for MCEA:

In June 2014, House Research updated a report it maintains on major state taxes and state aids.  The update added numbers for 2011.  The report contains tables that break out how much each county pays in taxes and receives in aid.  Because the report includes all of the state taxes that flow into the highway user tax distribution fund and the road-related funds that flow back to the county and its cities and townships, it is possible to compare the amounts and see which counties support the system and which counties are subsidized by it.  The comparison only relates to non-state trunk highway funds — the county state aid fund, the municipal state aid fund, and the five percent set-aside (which flows through accounts in CSAH).

For each county, we summed the road-related county, city, and township aids.  Then, we calculated how much each county contributed.  We summed the amounts from each county for the gas tax, registration fees, and the motor vehicle sales tax.  (Only part of MVST was included because the dedication of ‘no more than 60%’ to HUTDF resulting from the 2006 constitutional amendment was still being ramped up in 2011.)  From that amount, we deducted slightly less than 2% for the amounts taken off the top of HUTDF for DNR, refunds, and administration.  We then deducted 95% of 62% (58.9%) which represents the amount that is allocated to the state trunk highway fund.  We then compared the resulting amount to what it received and mapped the differences in terms of ultimate amount and by percent.  The result suggests that counties (and their cities and towns) in Greater Minnesota aren’t being neglected but rather that the system has been skewed to their benefit for some time.

Also, the following caveat: Only looking at CSAH is more complicated than the ‘non-state trunk highway fund’ dough but we figured out a workable formula from the information in the report and will be cranking out the maps soon.

Thanks to them for their excellent cartography.

36 thoughts on “Map of the Day: State Highway Taxes vs. State Highway Spending

  1. Matt Brillhart

    “non-trunk highway funds” – How does that reconcile with the large amounts of interstate and state highway miles in the metro counties? I suspect that the rural counties are still vastly subsidized by the metro counties, but I wonder if this isn’t skewed some by not including trunk highway funds. Obviously there are long stretches of interstate and state highways in rural areas too with few people to pay for them, but the vast amount of trunk highway circling and crisscrossing the metro should sway these percentages in one direction or another, no? Froggie?

    1. Matt Brillhart

      To supplement that comment, I’ll add that metro highway projects also tend to get quite expensive (see crosstown, 494/169, etc.) Maybe we can completely rebuild the Lowry Hill Tunnel, along with the interchanges at 394/94, 494/35W, 94/35W, etc. and call it even? Sad thing is, we’re told the above projects are too expensive and they get delayed forever while our tax dollars are spread around the state.

      1. Wayne

        Maybe we should test the waters for secession then? Let’s become a city-state!

        /Only half kidding.

    2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      You’re right, it’s odd to ignore the trunk highways. I’m on my phone so don’t have the data, but the Metro District did pay in for trunk highways more than it got out, but the rate was lower than what seems to be the average of metro counties here.

      Since metro residents rely on using trunk highways for everyday travel so much, it only seems fair to include them both.

      1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

        I presume they left out the trunk highways because they were looking specifically at how much each county contributes to the part of the HUTDF that goes to state aid (CSAH and MSAS).

        1. Jim Erkel

          The report from House Research contains the information needed to calculate how much each county contributed to the state trunk highway fund. However, it did not break out how much of the fund was spent in each county. As a result, we were limited to comparing how much each county contributed and received from the non-state trunk highway funds.

  2. Cole HIniker

    Not surprisingly, this coincides almost directly with VMT per centerline miles. The metro 7-counties produce about 47% of the state’s VMT but have only 12% of the centerline miles (higher lane miles, though). Projects do get expensive. The metro area also gets a substantially larger portion of the state funds for transit so that balances things out a bit. However, this is usually a huge complaint for Greater MN legislators (why should we pay for metro transit projects when we never use them?). If nothing else, this is a helpful starting point of how much the metro area subsidizes roads in Greater MN counties. If you include the funding for state and federal highways and the state funds for transit, then you could have a valuable piece of information for a legislator to make a case. Who’s going to do that? Any takers?

    1. Rosa

      Well, that’s always the joke, right? What would Minnesota be like without Minneapolis? Iowa.

      The cities subsidize basically everything in the rest of the state, and the legislators from the rest of the state bitch and moan because we have expensive stuff like bike lanes and public wading pools that “nobody else” has.

  3. Monte Castleman

    Also, a main gripe in Greater Minnesota has to do with the perceived inequalities of Mn/DOTs spending on trunk highways. Some examples are of how Mn/DOT funded part of US 212 with some of the oustate part of of some popup money that was supposed to be split evenly between outstate and metro- Mn/DOT justified it by saying it was an important road linking the metro and outstate. Also witness the pork barrel funding for the completing of the MN 60 expressway (part of which only have a couple of thousand AADT around 50000. And the incessant lobbying to get the US 14 expressway / freeway completed.

  4. Wayne

    Look at all those greedy takers! Highway welfare queens, all of them!

    It’s only fair to use their own language against them.

  5. Charles Marohn

    Awesome maps. Another way to splice this that maybe gets more personal.

    Otter Tail County: +$55.27 per capita

    St. Louis County: +$22.50 per capita

    Stearns County: -$36.85 per capita

    Hennepin County: -$54.27 per capita

    And remind me, who’s fighting to expand the state/federal government’s role here and who’s opposing that?

  6. Mike Hicks

    I guess I’ll put up a note of caution — a lot of the most vocal proponents of highway expansion are still in the blue counties, but out in the suburbs/exurbs or along the I-94/US-10 corridor to St. Cloud (kind of interesting that Sherburne county outranks the core metro counties as a donor by percentage, though that’s balanced to an extent by Benton, Stearns, and Wright).

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  8. Janne

    Say, can anyone define “trunk highways” for me? I know some things are for sure included (94, 90, 35), and other things that are for sure not (Bryant Avenue), but I’m not clear where the line gets drawn between the two.

    Second, can someone clarify what roads ARE included in this? Snelling? University? Central?Lyndale? West 7th? Cedar? Are they state or county?

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      Snelling and West 7th are for sure State roads, not 110% sure but I believe they would be counted as “Trunk Highways”. Things that are trunk highways would include all national highways, and state roads that are grade separated (62 or 100).

    2. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

      “Trunk highways” is Minnesota-speak for the state highways and US highways in the state (like Hwy 55, Hwy 61, etc etc). By definition, the Interstates are also considered “trunk highways”.

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  12. Dyna Sluyter

    To further confound the stats, a lot of the “revenue” in metro counties is corporate payments of fuel and sales taxes and registration fees for their fleets. Those corporations tend to have their offices in the metro counties, so that revenue is credited there, while the vehicles are located and driven all over the state and country. Thus just one big leasing or trucking company paying millions in revenue in Hennepin or Ramsey county is tweaking the stats and making the whole study worthless. Folks, this is “junk science” at it’s finest!

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      Interesting. Though I wouldn’t call it “junk science.” Parsing out things like that is extremely difficult in any situation. How many miles of VMT are for vehicles (large, heavy trucks included) owned outside the metro? How much driving is done on county roads within certain counties by vehicles that bought gas outside the county? How many vehicles are we talking about in your claim? I’m not disputing the transfer doesn’t exist, but want to know the magnitude to get an idea how much it shifts the conversation. Usually, things like that move the needle very little, but that’s why we have comments sections!

    2. Steve Lenertz

      To even that out, consider northern counties that have a huge amount of lakes. Itasca County has over 1,000 lakes. Over 78% the lakeshore is owned by people who live in the metro. However, the property taxes generated are credited to the county in which the lake is in.

  13. Skeptic Guy

    This appears to be a study designed to give a desired result for a pre-determined narrative. Which is fine, but a cursory glimpse of the maps clearly shows the correlation between population and % of subsidization.

    Which makes sense considering the research analysis says: “We summed the amounts from each county for the gas tax, registration fees, and the motor vehicle sales tax.”

    Obviously the larger population areas will have higher numbers for all of these categories. A lot of rural MN folks buy their cars in the metro, there are simply more choices, which then significantly skews the sales tax collection numbers. For examplle, try buying new Toyota in Jackson county.

    With so many metro citizens driving 20 miles one way to work each day, coupled with the obvious significant increase in population ,it’s beyond obvious that the metro counties would collect more gas tax.

    I guess, I don’t see how these maps tells us anything we didn’t already know? Of course small population counties need a subsidy for our STATE highways. It’s the height of metro arrogance to pretend that STATE highways across the state should be funded based on local factors like gas tax or vehicle sales tax collection.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I’d be very curious about the components of the revenue numbers.

      I’d assume that the lion’s share in each county comes from the gas tax and registration taxes, which wouldn’t really be skewed in the way you’re suggesting, but I don’t know.

      But I think you got the point exactly. People who live in areas with more people are paying for your stuff, not the other way around.

      1. Skeptic Guy

        I think it would be greatly skewed. Significantly more vehicles and more expensive vehicles in metro counties.
        A lot of rural Minnesota counties are only 30 miles wide, yet that’s a one way drive to work for many metro workers. If you live in Worthington and work in Worthington, you’ll drive in one week the miles a metro driver does in a day. I am ignorant on the per capita miles driven, but I’d be shocked if rural wasn’t 20%+ lower then metro.

        I think the “your stuff” component demonstrates a big part of the issue. State Highways are everyones’ “stuff”. If Ramsey county wants its own, nicer stuff, it has the tax base to make that happen. State Highways shouldn’t be seen as “local” stuff.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          I’m not following why you think the name of a road makes it infrastructure that’s needed by people other than those who drive on it.

          I’d also bet you’ve got it exactly backward as to which typical driver – the one in the metro or the one outstate – drives the most miles, but I don’t have any numbers either.

          1. Skeptic Guy

            The name of the road, or the type of the road?
            If the state builds a highway, it has an obligation to maintain it.
            Outstate State highways are filled with truck traffic hailing goods. I suppose if the folks in the city wanted to be able to buy stuff at the grocery store they might it useful for trucks hauling foodstuffs to be able to get there. While I realize metro roads are filled with these same trucks, the point is that the entire state benefits from a well well maintained state highway system.

            While I am aware the my personal experience is not indicative of all experiences, having lived in the city the suburbs and small town Minnesota, the number of miles driven in the city and small town are comparable, but the amount in the suburbs is substantially higher.

        2. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

          However, it is very often the case (especially Outstate) that the state highway doubles as a local town’s main street, so there is still very much a “local stuff” component to many state highways.

        3. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

          A few things of note for you and Adam:

          – First off, you may have missed it, but the maps shown in this article are for county/local roads…it does not include state highways.

          – Per Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) figures, only about 20% of all trips are commutes or work-related.

          – Also per FHWA figures, one-third of all car trips are 2 miles or less in length. Half of all car trips are 4 miles or less. And 3/4 of them are 10 miles or less.

  14. Rich Stroot

    Would be interesting to see travel patterns from the Twin CIties throughout the state, down Highway 61 all spring, summer and fall. The mass exodous from MSP to the cabins up north, the farm products in the rural counties that feed the Twin Cities. If the money stays in the County then the people should too

  15. Bill

    This is very interesting analysis. To me the main point is Adam’s. The more dense the population, the more likely it is that they are paying a disproportionate share of the costs to support a far flung infrastructure. It’s true at the federal level, the state level, AND the metro. Minneapolis pays for Eden Prairie’s road and sewer connections, Twin Cities pays for Mahnomen County’s, and Minnesota pays for North Dakotas. This is compounded by the fact that taxes are progressive (on macro level) across all of those levels, and incomes tend (not perfectly) to increase with density/urbanization.

    One additional comment I would toss into the mix though. Someone mentioned Otter Tail County. As a Minneapolis homeowner and an OT county cabin owner with a 4 figure property tax bill on the cabin, I’d be curious to know what % of taxes in lake-dense counties like OT, Becker, Crow Wing, etc. are actually paid by metro residents. I bet it’s not insignificant.

    I don’t begrudge the outstate folks having good roads, because as someone suggested, we do need a way to get organic kale to metro grocery stores! What I do find incredible is the lack of appreciation for the fact that a lot of my tax dollars flow to keep “their” roads, schools, community centers, sewer interceptors, etc. functioning. We’re all in this together! I do feel a LOT better funding roads in OT County than I do funding roads in Mississippi I guess.

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