Gov. Mark Dayton slammed a proposal by House Republicans to pay for fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges through $200 million from the state’s projected budget surplus, calling it “pure fantasy.”
“That’s not a solution. That’s not a short-term solution, that’s not a long-term solution, and it demonstrates that they don’t understand the problem, and they certainly don’t have any serious interest in finding a real solution.” Dayton told reporters at a news conference Friday, one day after the House GOP laid out their legislative priorities. He added that their plan to devote a total of $750 million to transportation over four years through cost savings elsewhere is money out of “La-La Land,” at the cost of other projects.
The plan contrasts sharply with Dayton’s initial proposal to devote $6 billion in new spending for transportation during the next 10 years through a wholesale gas tax and an increase in license fees. He said he’s not even willing to discuss the Republican proposal “until they decide to get real about it and offer a real approach.”
In a statement, House speaker Kurt Daudt expressed confidence that he could convince Dayton the plan will work.
"Minnesotans elected a divided government with the expectation that we’d work together to move our state forward," he said. "I’m disappointed in Governor Dayton’s tone today, but I’m going to keep working on him. I will win him over because I believe we can work together to solve the problems Minnesotans care about.”
The DFL governor’s proposal, will be funded mainly though a 6.5 percent-per-gallon tax on gasoline at the wholesale level — one he’s estimated would cost drivers about an additional 12 cents per gallon at the pump. He acknowledged Friday that their projection of $5.8 billion was based on the assumption that gas would cost $3.25 per gallon, and that there will be a shortfall if gas prices continue to hover around $2.25 per gallon. He said it was too early to say whether he would propose a supplemental tax to make that up.
“Let’s get this one started,” he said.
Dayton’s transportation frustrations included the proposed Southwest light rail project and its most recent delay: A request for more engineering studies, incurring more costs and delays, and potential loss of federal funding, which has already dropped by 10 percent.
“If I’m in the position of a federal allocator and I’ve got a dozen other communities that are vying for this same money that are cohesive on their goals and are ready to go, it’s pretty obvious to me that these shenanigans are going to place Minnesota’s proposal back at the end.”
The studies could have been completed years ago, he said, with objections to the project crossing park land taking place back then, “saving everybopdy an enormous amount of time and energy and money on something they were going to come and object to anyway.”
“It’s pure fantasy to think that 10 or 15 years ago you’re going to build a light rail line from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis and there won’t be any disruptions on people’s homes and properties and public lands and waters.” He said. “If that was the absolute dealbreaker that there was going to be any kind of disruption, we’ve been fooling ourselves.”
Dayton said he sympathized by private homeowners whose properties would be disrupted by construction and operation of the SWLRT, but “that the public bodies that have been sitting around all this time certainly could see the writing on the wall, and brought a pencil and eraser five years ago and start to work on something better.”