SOUTHERN MINNESOTA - Minnesota 1st Congressional District Republican candidate state Sen. Mike Parry was on the attack Monday against fellow Republican candidate Allen Quist over his 1986 vote in support of a gas tax increase. Quist and Parry are currently competing to be the official Republican challenger to DFL incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Walz.
In a campaign e-mail, Parry posted a June 21 video showing Quist responding to a question about the gas tax at a town hall meeting in Winona.
In the video, Quist answered, "Have I supported a gas tax? I think I did once the first year I was in [the Legislature]. But keep in mind, the gas tax is not indexed for inflation, and so you can make a case at some point in time, to have adequate funding, you just try to keep up with inflation, somewhat. Would I do that today? I would not."
Quist actually made the vote in 1986, during his second term in the Minnesota House.
In the e-mail, Parry claimed that the increase Quist voted for would have made Minnesota the fourth highest gas tax in the country. Parry also boasted that he had never voted for a tax increase while in the Minnesota Legislature.
Parry was an author on a 2011 bill that expanded electronic gambling, greatly increasing the amount of games the state could tax, while simultaneously cutting taxes on state-approved gambling methods. The bill was looked at as a potential funding source for the Vikings stadium bill, but it was eventually withdrawn. The Taxpayers League of Minnesota, one of Minnesota's biggest anti-tax groups, criticized Parry's bill and other similar bills that expanded gambling, claiming their creation inherently generated a new tax. Parry denied the claim that it represented a tax.
Parry's campaign adviser Ben Golnik said the gas tax criticism is part of the campaign's planned focus to criticize Quist's voting record. He said the gas tax will not be a primary criticism focus. Rather, it will be part of a larger message they will push ahead of the Aug. 14 primary election.
An ad campaign push is planned between now and the primary. Golnik declined to provide details about the scope or content of the ads. Quist announced on Saturday that he would be making a major fund-raising push towards the end of this week, including introducing his first TV ad of the campaign.
Quist responded that the criticism was ridiculous. He claimed that the Legislature cut $1 billion during that term.
"He's trying to make it sound like he's better on taxes than me. I'm far superior on taxes," said Quist.
Quist considers gas tax to be a user fee for drivers on the state's highways. He said that because of this view, he opposed raising the gas tax, especially during a recession or to subsidize any project like light-rail programs.
He also said he doesn't support having the gas tax indexed for inflation.
"My point is that if you don't index and you have inflation for long enough, you'll have to end up raising the tax. Otherwise, the highway system will fall apart," said Quist, "But I don't support indexing, and I don't support raising the tax unless I know it isn't going to something like light rail."
The gas tax debate is relevant now because the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) cited plummeting gas tax revenues as a major problem in maintaining state highways. When MnDOT initially indicated a four-lane expansion of Highway 14 was unlikely, before it recently reversed its decision, it listed the lack of sufficient gas tax revenue among the causes. Both candidates stated that other methods like spending cuts were preferable to a gas tax increase.
Quist also characterized Parry's negative campaign as desperation after the announcement of his major fund-raising push. He said that he plans to not send any negative campaign ads ahead of the primary.
"Our [campaign] plan is to basically ignore him. We don't consider him a big problem, " said Quist, "If he ever becomes a serious challenger, maybe we'll target him on failing to push hard on Minnesota's Medicare fraud."
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at email@example.com)