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Continued: Gas tax increase appears certain

  • Article by: PATRICIA LOPEZ , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 3, 2007 - 9:55 PM

"If someone gets in the way," he said, "they should be prepared to get steamrolled."

Molnau defends department

But even as Pawlenty was meeting with House and Senate leaders on Friday afternoon to talk over the possibility of a bonding/gas tax agreement, his lieutenant governor, Carol Molnau, appeared to remain opposed.

Molnau, who also serves as transportation commissioner, held her first news conference since returning from China on Thursday night, offering a defiant and occasionally angry defense of her department.

On a gas tax, she said, "we do need to look for resources we can count on long term." But in order to solve the problem, she said, "we would have to raise gas taxes 34 or 35 cents a gallon. I don't think the motoring public can sustain that."

Molnau herself is likely to come under renewed scrutiny in the coming months. Her dogged opposition to expanded transit and gas tax increases has earned her few friends among the DFL-led House and Senate.

Molnau, who has served as transportation commissioner since 2003, was not confirmed the first time until May 2004 because of DFL opposition and then only on a 38-28 vote. At the time Murphy complained of her opposition to transit and said she had shown "a lack of commitment to work towards a serious solution to our funding problems."

This year, the first of Pawlenty's new term, Murphy said he would not hold confirmation hearings on Molnau because she probably would have been rejected, exacerbating the existing divisions in the Senate on transportation issues. A commissioner may continue to serve without confirmation unless rejected by the Senate.

Asked if that issue could surface in a special session, Murphy said, "that's a discussion for another day."

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, who had supported a five-cent-per-gallon increase, said the collapse had triggered enough concerns among Minnesotans about overall road and bridge safety that "a gas tax is near certain. We need something to catch up to the backlog.

"Minnesotans just really expect us to come up with thoughtful, bipartisan quick product. We need to deliver."

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288 • plopez@startribune.com

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