MN Senate GOP rolls out transportation plan

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Minnesota Senate Republicans outlined a transportation funding plan Monday that relies heavily on existing resources to pay for road and bridge projects.

The proposal would spend an additional $1.3 billion over the next two years without raising the gas tax.

The Senate GOP plan uses sales tax revenue from auto parts, car rentals and leases and taps money from existing Minnesota Department of Transportation accounts. It also increases trunk highway bonding and books federal transportation grants already heading to the state.

Minnesotans are demanding improvements to roads and bridges, said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, the chair of the Senate transportation committee.

“I think the people in the state of Minnesota want their infrastructure fixed. It’s the first thing that they see when they walk out of their door in the morning, is their ability to get to work or get to church of get to shopping or whatever it is they’re going to do.”

Newman said the plan does not increase spending for transit. It also eliminates state operating money for future light rail projects, including the Southwest Light Rail Transit line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. The state currently pays 50 percent of those operating costs. But Newman said no more.

“I think it’s an eminently reasonable position to take because the Legislature is not involved in building the light rail projects,” he said.

The key piece of the ongoing road and bridge funding is the $400 million from auto-related sales tax revenue. That’s money already coming into the general fund.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said the state’s fiscal health makes this a “perfect time” to dedicate that revenue to transportation.

“That does create a hole in our general fund, and we have to decide what we’re going to fill that with and where,” Gazelka said. “But if you look at the surplus we have now plus the surplus going forward, we’re pretty confident that we can do that and still take care of the other budget needs that we have, including tax relief.”

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is proposing a bigger investment in transportation with more permanent money. Dayton wants to fund road and bridge projects with a 6.5 percent sales tax on gasoline, along with on increased fees for vehicle registrations. He wants to fund transit projects with a half-cent sales tax increase in the seven-county metro area.

Senate Democrats quickly panned the Republican proposal.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis said the plan is largely fiction and would only spend about $117 million in new money.

“A far cry from the minimum $250 million we need per year just to maintain what we have. This bill moves us backwards as a state I’m sad to say. This is wholly inadequate. It completely fails to address transit.”