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Constitutional question?

A 2006 ballot question regarding the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax (MVST) raised discussion from Wadena County officials in support of the measure, as well as from those who oppose the amending of the Minnesota State Constitution for a sales tax.

MVST is the 6.5 percent sales tax applied to the sale of new and used motor vehicles in Minnesota. When the tax was implemented during the 1980s, it was intended to eventually be dedicated entirely to transportation funding. That dedication never happened, according to Joel Ulring, Wadena County highway engineer, and most of the tax has gone into the general fund.

The ballot question asks voters "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to dedicate revenue from a tax on the sale of new and used motor vehicles over a five year period, so that after June 30, 2011, all of the revenue is dedicated at least 40 percent for public transit assistance and not more than 60 percent for highway purposes?"

County Commissioner Mary Harrison said at the July 19 county board meeting that she does not have a problem with statutorily dedicating the money for transportation, but she does not support amending the constitution.

"[I have] a huge problem with it," she said about the amendment. "It's not the way the constitution should be used."

Ulring said the Legislature attempted to pass a hike in the gas tax, but that failed and now the constitution is being used to cover the cost of transportation funds. He said the ballot question asks Minnesotans if transportation is important to them.

"It increases the amount of funds overall to us to work on county roads and bridges that are on the state aid system," he said. "If you think the roads you drive on should be worked on, you should vote yes."

Bill Stearns, county commissioner, said the measure may not pass simply because the wording of the ballot question is confusing and that many voters will likely not understand the question. Stearns said that voters who do not answer the question will be automatically counted as no votes against the amendment.

The wording of the ballot question has also raised some questions, according to Stearns, He said the division of a 40/60 split is ambiguous and there is some "wiggle room" for legislators to increase the public transit portion of the transportation budget.

"The Legislature decides statutorily how it will go," he said about the split. "You just have to trust that the Legislature would set the difference between roads and transit fairly."

If the measure passes, the reallocation of the MVST money may leave a hole in the general fund. Ulring said it leaves the state government with the same old issues of possibly raising taxes or making cuts.