Mayor Carter: St. Paul sales tax hike would rebuild 25 priority roads, fund East Side community center

Tripling St. Paul’s local sales tax to 1.5% could raise nearly $1 billion over 20 years, funding the reconstruction of 25 well-traveled streets, an East Side community center and a sprawling new athletics complex.

“The last time Summit Avenue was reconstructed, William Taft was president,” Mayor Melvin Carter told reporters Wednesday, a day after the city announced its intent to seek the Legislature’s approval to ask St. Paul voters for a bigger sales tax.

“Especially over the course of the last week, we hear all day, everyday, from our residents about how critical it is we fix our streets, about how critical it is we have first-class infrastructure so we can connect to jobs, connect to schools,” said Carter, pointing to recent inclement weather over the holiday weekend.

He acknowledged difficult conversations ahead with business owners, lawmakers and everyday city residents.

“We’re looking forward to that exact conversation,” Carter said. “It’s a big conversation with the Legislature, but more importantly in our city, in our neighborhoods, about whether that goal is worth a penny or not. … Meeting those goals can’t be done for free.”

Six members of the city council have endorsed the sales tax increase, which they are poised to add to the city’s legislative agenda on Jan. 4. If approved by the Legislature, the proposed sales tax increase would go before city voters through a public ballot.

Tied with Duluth

The mayor spoke Wednesday at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center on Robie Street, alongside Parks and Recreation Director Andy Rodriguez and Public Works Director Sean Kershaw.

Carter noted that at 7.875%, the total sales tax paid on purchases in St. Paul lags that of the state’s three other major cities: Consumers in Duluth pay 8.875%, Rochester 8.125% and Minneapolis 8.025%.

If the proposal passes, St. Paul’s total sales tax would tie Duluth for the priciest in the state. The 1 percentage point increase would be scheduled to sunset after 20 years.

The state of Minnesota imposes a sales tax of 6.875%. Add in local taxes and the average that Minnesota consumers pay is 7.49%, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit tax policy organization based in Washington, D.C.

Rec facilities, major roads

Kershaw said $738 million, or 75% of the $984 million in anticipated funds, would allow the city to rebuild major segments of 25 of the highest-volume city-owned streets. That includes portions of Grand, Minnehaha, Summit, Cretin and Hamline avenues, Pelham Boulevard, Earl and East Seventh streets, and other well-traveled arterial and collector roads.

On a 100-point Pavement Condition Index, “our arterial and collectors are at 49, which is not great,” Kershaw said. “In 20 years, they’ll be at 29, which is considered very poor to serious.”

The remaining $246 million in anticipated funds would address a major maintenance backlog in Parks and Rec facilities, plus a handful of new projects. Rodriguez said his department would like to see a new community center built on the East Side, most likely at the location of the Duluth and Case or Hayden Heights rec centers, and that the East Side would benefit from an aquatics facility.

In addition, he said, the city lacks a tournament-ready municipal athletics complex. He called it premature to announce a specific location, though it’s clear the city needs “at minimum 20 acres of land, if not more,” for a field house and indoor and outdoor courts and playing fields.

A rebuild of an existing Parks and Rec facility, such as 1500 Rice St. — the oldest athletics facility in the city — is possible. “We’ve got some options,” Rodriguez said.

Related Articles