One of this state's most persistent and damaging political logjams finally gave way Monday. As a result, some of this state's most persistent traffic jams will ease before this decade ends, and most damaged bridges will be replaced.
The House's 91-41 vote, overriding Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a $6.6 billion, 10-year transportation funding bill with one vote to spare, was the product of highly skillful lawmaking. (The Senate's 47-20 vote was never in doubt.)
Many of the legislators and lobbyists who contributed to this result deserve credit for making the state's infrastructure a priority in 2008. Our list is incomplete, but starts with these:
• DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. Yesterday's vote likely would have had a different outcome were it not for Kelliher's personal role in shaping the bill. She took the lead in securing business backing. Her respectful, persistent courtship of House Republicans won six minority votes that stayed solid under heavy intra-caucus pressure.
• House Transportation Finance chair Bernie Leider, DFL-Crookston, the bill's House sponsor. The only World War II veteran still serving in the Legislature, Leider brought the conscience and values of the Greatest Generation to the transportation argument. A retired county roads engineer, he understood how critical the shortage of funds for highways and, particularly, bridges has become.
He wasn't about to let the boomers and Gen X-ers simply pass the problem to their children. "The Legislature caused this problem, because for the last 20 years we haven't been doing the job we should," Leider said yesterday.
• Rep. Ron Erhardt, R-Edina. The template for yesterday's bill was the one Erhardt assembled almost single-handedly in 2005, when, as the chair of the House Transportation Policy Committee, he resolved to do something about the growing shortage of transportation funds.
His bill was vetoed, but his courage inspired others. Kudos to the five other House Republicans who voted yes yesterday: Neil Peterson, Bloomington; Kathy Tinglestad, Andover; Jim Abeler, Anoka; Bud Heidgerken, Freeport, and Rod Hamilton, Mountain Lake.
• Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson. By raising their gas tax ante at the start of the session, Olson and the chamber positioned themselves to help shape the outcome. Olson withstood nasty barbs from some of his own members to secure for his organization a seat at the negotiating table and a role in whittling down the bill's metro sales tax to 0.25 cents on the dollar.
• Wells Fargo-Minnesota President Jon Campbell. Campbell took the transportation issue personally, lobbyists said, and worked effectively with legislators behind the scenes. He's also credited with nudging the Chamber of Commerce into a stronger role. Along with Supervalu CEO Jeff Noddle, Campbell went public on these pages last week, saying that more roads-and-transit investment could not wait another year.
The revenue this bill will provide for roads, bridges, transit and even repair of the MnDOT building is badly needed. Now it's up to the Legislature's DFL majorities to find ways to soften the tax blow that goes with it. A 20-year transportation funding battle ended yesterday, but the general fund battle is about to begin.