From the beginning, most every lawmaker agreed Minnesota’s roads and bridges needed to be fixed, but there was no agreement on how to pay for it.
In the end, legislators left the question for next year, passing a bill that essentially keeps transportation funding at current levels, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
“We just ran out of time,” said Rep. Tim Kelly, the Red Wing Republican who leads the House Transportation and Finance Committee. “We agreed that we will start in March where we left off. I’m very, very optimistic.”
But Gov. Mark Dayton Tuesday called this year’s bill “very, very disappointing,” and warned that leaner times would make it even more difficult to build support for a major new transportation investment.
Dayton and the Democratic-controlled Senate had proposed a hike in license tab fees and a new wholesale gas tax that would have increased the cost at the pump by about 16 cents a gallon at current prices — a tough sell given the state’s $2 billion surplus. A boost in a metro-area sales tax would have paid for transit.
The $7 billion Republican-controlled House plan avoided tax increases by diverting general fund dollars and borrowing against the state’s debt capacity.
Disappointed representatives from Move MN, a coalition of more than 200 businesses, organizations and local governments, launched a three-day “Duct Tape Tour” of the state Tuesday to express their frustration.
“We are going to keep reminding the Legislature that this was an issue and that it is still unfinished business,” said Margaret Donahoe, executive director of the MN Transportation Alliance.
Adam Duininck, chair of the Metropolitan Council, said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed in this session’s outcome. It was a missed opportunity to expand and enhance the transit and transportation system in our region.”
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, whom Dayton enlisted to build public support for his transportation priorities, noted that Republican governors and lawmakers in Iowa, South Dakota and elsewhere have enacted new taxes to boost spending on major transportation projects.
“I just wish people could get out of their hunkered-down position and really try to figure out how to solve this problem,” Smith said.
But Senate Republican Leader David Hann said Republicans “fought hard for a long-term transportation plan, [but] Democrats insisted on an unpopular gas tax increase.”
A MnDOT report indicates over half the state’s roads are more than 50 years old, and 40 percent of the state’s bridges are more than 40 years old. In the next three years, 20 percent of Minnesota’s roads will “pass their useful life.”