Dayton declares gas tax not so dead

Gov. Mark Dayton answers questions about transportation funding during a news conference. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is trying to breathe life into the transportation funding proposal that he recently declared dead.

Dayton said in early December that he thought the gas tax increase that he and Senate Democrats championed last session was dead, because the latest economic forecast showed that he and lawmakers will have a sizeable budget surplus to work with this session.

But Dayton told reporters Friday that his earlier statement was only an assessment.

“There are second lives with legislative proposals,” Dayton said.

Dayton said he still believes a new revenue source is needed for a long-term funding plan. He also renewed his challenge to House Republicans, who oppose a gas tax increase, to come up with a viable alternative.

“It’s very bad policy, unacceptable policy to have no ongoing source of revenue for increased transportation projects, both transit and roads, highways, bridges,” he said.

Dayton said he had a private meeting Thursday with DFL lawmakers to discuss transportation funding issues. He said he apologized to them “for having to blurt out” his assessment of the gas tax six weeks ago.

House Republicans want to use surplus money and dedicate existing sales tax revenues to transportation.

Dayton said he’ll do all he can to push back against that approach.