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He said politicians supporting a hike have not made a persuasive case that routine but critical maintenance needs more money and the federal government won't provide enough of it.
"I think a lot of the debate since the bridge collapsed has sort of left people thinking, 'Well, maybe we've got enough money from the federal government, maybe we don't need a gas tax increase,'" Munnich said.
He noted that the gas tax hits rural drivers more heavily than metro residents, and the poll showed 55 percent of people outside the Twin Cities opposing a gas tax hike.
Minnesota's gas tax was last increased to 20 cents in 1988, when it had the buying power of 35 cents. The average state gas tax is 28.5 cents, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Twelve states have a lower tax than Minnesota.
Minnesota's ranking is no consolation to opponents of raising the tax.
"I think for every dollar you pay in taxes you get back about 10 cents in value," said Robert O'Byrne, 57, of rural Rochester, who expressed irritation with a MnDOT project in his area that he views as wasteful.
Ralph Belin, 82, a retired Lutheran minister from Chaska, is something of a paradox. On one hand, he favors a gas tax hike to improve bridges, saying, "I don't think people in our state are that bad off, they can afford a nickel a gallon."
Pawlenty has vetoed gas tax increases over the years and Belin said he disagrees with the governor's insistence after the bridge disaster that any gas tax hike be offset by a cut in income taxes.
Still, he described DFLers supporting a gas tax hike as grandstanding and ineffective and said Pawlenty has "done a pretty darn good job considering all the roadblocks that the other party's been putting in his way."
DFL, Pawlenty view
That assessment rankles some DFLers who view Pawlenty as a longstanding impediment to transportation improvements.
Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau "have tried to hoodwink the people into thinking we don't have a problem and can borrow our way into prosperity and don't have to raise taxes. They have the bully pulpit."
Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor and legislators agree more money is needed for transportation. "He's willing to consider a reasonable gas tax increase under certain circumstances as part of a comprehensive transportation package," McClung said.
Carleton College political science Prof. Steven Schier said Pawlenty's approval rating has less to do with any policy decision than with "visibly asserting a leadership position" during a crisis.
"He has reaped some political benefit just as Giuliani has," Schier said, referring to the former New York mayor's high profile after Sept. 11.
Pat Doyle 651-222-1210