How much of your gas tax comes back to Cook County?
Jan 24, 2020 10:54AM
By Cook County Highway Engineer Krysten Foster - From Cook County MN - January 24, 2020
During the first quarter of each year, Cook County and local townships receive news of their annual state-aid funding apportionments. Each year the State of Minnesota calculates revenues from the prior year’s motor fuel taxes, motor vehicle sales taxes, registration fees and other relevant sources, and the state distributes these funds amongst public road authorities in February. These revenue sources are collectively known as highway users income
In 2018, highway users income totaled $2.3 billion, with 40 percent of this amount generated from Minnesota’s current state tax of 28.5 cents per gallon (or 20.25 cents per gallon for E-85 users and less for jet fuel and aviation gasoline). From this amount, the Department of Public Safety, Department of Revenue and Minnesota Management & Budget receive some funds to support program administration costs, and the Department of Natural Resources receives a share of these funds to support programs for off-road users, including boats, snowmobiles, ATVs and off-road motorcycles.
After these off-the-top appropriations, five percent of the remaining amount is distributed for town road and town bridge purposes and the repair of trunk highways that are turned back to the jurisdiction of local agencies. Ninety-five percent, or $2.1 billion in 2019, is distributed in accordance with Article 14 of Minnesota’s Constitution, which provides 62 percent to the state’s trunk highway fund; 29 percent to the county state-aid highway fund; and nine percent to designated state-aid cities. (Interest on the county state-aid highway fund is also distributed within this fund.)
Of the $637 million available to 87 counties in 2019, Cook County received $3,385,660. Therefore, Cook County receives around 0.15 percent from highway users income sources. In other words, for every 24 gallons of gas you purchased in Minnesota in 2018, you contributed one penny towards the maintenance of, and future construction improvements along, Cook County’s state-aid highways. These figures vary from year to year, and the county will find out within the next few weeks how these numbers look for 2020.
County state-aid highway monies are distributed according to a formula that accounts for the number of motor vehicles registered in each county and other factors that are based on each county’s unique network of roads and bridges. Counties with four-lane highways, more miles of roads, more bridges, more stoplights or higher traffic counts than Cook County generally receive a greater share of this distribution. In fact, Cook County was one of seven counties that received what was considered the minimum distribution of $3.38 million last year.
Before these funds arrive in the Auditor’s Office, this distribution is further split between maintenance and construction services. In 2019, then, Cook County received $215,734 towards future construction investments on designated state-aid highways (CSAHs) within the city limits of Grand Marais. These include 5th Avenue West and County Road 7. Just over $1.8 million was allocated to construction investments on CSAH (county roads 1 through 23) throughout the county. $1,354,264 of the 2019 allocation supported annual maintenance services on our CSAH routes, helping offset Road & Bridge levy needs, and the townships of Schroeder and Tofte split an allocation of $3,298.
This annual process means a couple of important things for Cook County. When the Highway Department prepares the budget in July and the county board considers a preliminary levy in September, state transportation revenues must be estimated because state-aid maintenance support is not yet known. The good news is that we can typically rely on trends to predict this line item. Additionally, the state provides an estimate for each county in October (before final levies are set). Due to recent legislation regarding the distribution of sales taxes on auto parts, Cook County expects to receive a $3.5 million distribution in 2020.
What does this level of funding mean for the future of Cook County’s transportation system? A three-mile project with a scope similar to the ongoing South Shore Drive improvements costs $2.7 million, or one and a half times our annual state-aid construction allotment.
Further, according to the results of last summer’s Transportation Plan survey, 75 percent of respondents do not support increasing local property taxes for the purpose of delivering additional road construction projects. With a $1.8 to $1.9 million annual budget for CSAH construction improvements (in addition to a periodic municipal CSAH project or federal project), road projects such as that on South Shore Drive can only happen every other season. Consequently, unless state transportation funding increases, Cook County should prepare for a decline in the number of local road construction projects.
Additional information regarding Highway Department activities is available on the county’s website, https://co.cook.mn.us/.
Note: Although we have federal Highway Trust Fund revenues to thank for the upcoming Gunflint Trail improvements between Trout Lake Rd. and Pine Mt. Rd., the federal fuel tax is omitted from this article because a strong majority of federal highway user fees support state-maintained highways. Cook County’s next federally-supported transportation project is forecasted for the summer of 2024.