Senate Republicans on Monday unveiled their transportation spending proposal, touted as a $3.6 billion, 10-year plan that calls for shifting $400 million in auto-related taxes from the state's general fund to roads and bridges, borrowing $300 million and a pledge to curtail state funding for light-rail transit in the future.
The plan, Republican leaders said, focuses on roads and bridges and does not raise taxes, in contrast with a plan proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton that calls for a sales tax on gas of 6.5 percent.
State officials in recent years have called for a comprehensive transportation plan, but partisan fights over calls for new dedicated revenue have derailed past proposals.
"We feel like this is one of the areas that is unfinished business," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said in rolling out the GOP plan, adding that the last time the state had a major transportation bill was in 2008.
Senate Republicans say their plan would result in $570 million in ongoing spending over the next two years, including the $400 million shifted from the general fund to roads and bridges. The rest would be paid for by using $53 million in savings from "efficiencies" identified by the state Department of Transportation and $117 million more from the department's so-called flex spending account.
Notably, the plan does not provide much funding for public transit, prompting criticism from Senate DFLers.
Citing federal and local uncertainty over transit funding, state Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said the bill will not commit significant state funding to transit.
"I just think it would be irresponsible of me or any other legislator to move forward with significant sums of money being put into transit at this point when we really don't know what it's going to look like," said Newman, chairman of the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.
He said the GOP will also seek policy changes, including a bill to address concerns raised by the legislative auditor over how transportation projects are selected for funding. Newman said he also would like to eliminate state funding for future light rail lines.
State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, called the GOP plan "wholly inadequate" and pushed back on criticism of light rail. Dibble, the DFL lead on the transportation committee, said light rail spurs future economic development. "This bill moves us backward as a state," Dibble told reporters.
House Republicans on Tuesday will unveil their transportation proposal.