According to a news release sent out by the U.S. Department of Transportation, this is what Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said as she stood next to Gov. Tim Pawlenty in Bloomington today and announced federal dollars to cut traffic congestion along I-35W:
“Our economic vitality and prosperity as a nation are increasingly becoming dependent on our willingness to embrace new transportation strategies,” Secretary Peters said. “Thanks to the tremendous political courage of state and local leaders, the Twin Cities’ future is looking promising and prosperous.”
Since many of the projects (such as a toll lane on I-35W, which got $24.7 million in the gas tax bill) being partially funded were in the transportation bill vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty, and then overridden by the Legislature with the aid of a half dozen Republican lawmakers, it’s possible she was referring to the bill Pawlenty and most Republicans despised because it raised the state’s gasoline tax.
I called the Department of Transportation to ask what Peters was referring to when she invoked the phrase “political courage.”
They punted, saying a spokesman accompanying Peters would call me back right away. He didn’t.
Peters spokesman Brian Turmail said she was referring to the fact “the Minnesota Legislature, working with Gov. Pawlenty, was able to pass legislation that included high-occupancy toll lanes on I-35W. In the past we’ve seen a backlash for those sort of decisions.”
But that was in the transportation bill the governor vetoed, so is she saying passing the gas tax in a bill the governor described as “ridiculous” was actually “political courage”?
“Absolutely not,” Turmail said. “She hasn’t weighed in on the gas tax at the state level, but she opposes it at the national level.”
“Would she like to weigh in on the state gas tax?” I asked.
“It’s not proven to reduce congestion and when you’ ve got a national energy policy on reducing gasoline consumption, it doesn’t make some sense to increase it in order to pay for transportation projects,” he said.
MPR’s Tim Pugmire reports that Rep. Neil Peterson and Rep. Ron Ron Erhardt, two Republicans who were branded for their vote in support of the tax, were at the event in Bloomington.
The press folks were interested in other issues and questions. Too bad. It could’ve been a fabulous line of questioning.