Gov. Tim Walz traveled to a hazardous railroad crossing in Anoka on Tuesday to push for his transportation package, which includes a 20-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax to fix and improve Minnesota roads and bridges.
“The issue for Anoka is this one, but every single community has one, and we’re in it together,” said Walz, surrounded by Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and local government officials. Also present was Margaret Anderson Kelliher, commissioner of the Department of Transportation and the last speaker of the Minnesota House to get a gas tax increase passed into law.
The Anoka intersection of Hwy. 47 and Ferry Street carries more than 18,000 vehicles and up to 80 trains per day, according to the Walz administration. In 2003, a driver at the intersection collided with a train, killing four people.
The Department of Transportation has identified 500 road and bridge projects for development around the state — if lawmakers approve new revenue. Walz is seeking $11 billion over the next decade from the gas tax and other revenue sources.
But Republicans, who control the majority in the state Senate, are skeptical of any tax increase.
“We have a big pot of money that goes to transportation. We’re not short of money for transportation,” state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, chairman of the taxes committee, told the Star Tribune recently.
“We don’t need to raise the gas tax 20 cents,” he said. “It doesn’t make people’s lives easier.”
The gas tax is now 28.6 cents per gallon. The Walz plan would increase it 5 cents per gallon every six months for two years, after which it would increase with inflation.
Walz said his visit to Anoka was no coincidence. The city is represented in the upper chamber by state Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who voted for the last gas tax increase in 2008 when he was in the Minnesota House.
On Twitter, Abeler offered support for the railroad crossing project — but not for the tax increase.
“I appreciate Gov. Walz’s visit to my neighborhood in Anoka at the most dangerous rail crossing in the state,” he wrote. “The funds to solve this problem do not require raising the gas tax, the sales tax or car tab fees. I will work with the Walz administration to get it done.”