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Despite opposition from the governor, the Minnesota Senate Friday approved increasing gasoline and sales taxes for state highways and metro transit.
The move, orchestrated by DFL senators, would raise the gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon and increase the metro sales tax for transit by a half-cent. Both would be phased in over several years.
The tax hikes would need to be approved by the Minnesota House and survive resistance by Gov. Mark Dayton before becoming law.
The Senate approved the tax hikes 35-27 in a transportation finance bill after Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, urged senators to "have the courage" to pay for highway and transit improvements.
"We need this funding desperately," she said.
Republicans attacked the tax increases and also claimed they were blindsided by a last-minute move to amend the bill on the Senate floor.
"This is not the right way to pass a bill," said Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, complaining of a "backroom deal."
The Senate's gas tax hike puts DFLers at odds with Dayton.
The governor does favor increasing the sales tax for metro transit, but DFL legislators said they feared they couldn't get enough votes to raise revenue for Twin Cities transit but not raise funds for state highways. The House version of the transportation bill does not raise either tax.
Franzen said the increased sales tax would assure success of the Southwest Corridor light-rail project between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.
"This is how we pay for things," she said.
Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, cited the findings of a governor's task force about the need to spend more to maintain the existing transportation system.
"If we don't ... it will get worse," Kent said.
"We have an opportunity to send a strong message to the House and the governor that transportation is a priority," said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka.
Ortman accused DFLers of trying to "ram this bill down out throats ... without full committee hearings." She said Democrats were on a "spending spree," adding, "We don't need any more money."
"This process stinks," said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
Citing Dayton's avowed opposition to raising the gas tax, Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, predicted the bill was doomed.
"This is headed for veto land, that's my understanding of what he said," Senjem told senators.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, argued that the proposed tax hikes are merely "a modification" of increases approved in committee.
The measure passed Friday would increase the state gas tax by 2.5 cents in the first biennium and by another 2.5 cents in the second biennium. It would raise the metro sales tax by a half-cent in two stages over the same period.
It is similar to a proposal offered and then withdrawnthis week by Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope.